In less than a month 1.5 million students will join 175,000 teachers, administrators and staff back in North Carolina public school classrooms. On the University of North Carolina system campuses across the state 240,000 students will settle into dorms and lecture halls with 48,000 faculty and staff.

It is not without some very real increasing health concerns for our communities.

The state and nation are being hit by the most contagious variant of COVID-19. After weeks of decline, the number of new COVID positive cases in the state has started to dramatically increase — from 534 a week ago to 1,023. Hospitalizations have jumped from 409 to 536 over the same period.

Private institutions, such as Wake Forest and Duke universities, have sent a clear message to their students and faculty. Vaccines are a must for those returning for the new school year. This is not about administrators flexing their bureaucratic muscles or imposing an ideological dictate. They are directly and deeply concerned about the health and safety of their communities.

“Under great stress, and often at great peril, we have remained committed to each other — and to our missions of discovery, research, and patient care,” said Duke President Vincent Price in a message sent to students, faculty and staff. “I ask you to join me in taking the next step toward ensuring the safety and vitality of our university community.”

This is not about an individual action, but demonstrating concern for the health and safety of a community — friends, classmates faculty, staff and others in the campus community.

Duke University’s ABC Science Collaborative offered up a set of recommendations for assuring community health in North Carolina schools.

The actions recommended aren’t simply about an individual’s isolated behavior. It is the impact a single person’s action can have beyond their own well-being. It is a demonstration of concern and care for a community.

“Encourage vaccinations.” Vaccines are available to everyone 12 and older. That means any student entering high school should get the vaccine. This is about making sure the pandemic doesn’t do any more to disrupt the school year. This is about students protecting their classmates.

Even amid the mixed messages that seem to emanate from the General Assembly, the two top leaders have recorded vaccine endorsements. “They are safe and effective,” says Senate Leader Phil Berger.

“Adhere to proper masking.” Wearing a mask is not a political statement. It does speak loudly about an individuals concern for others. Where appropriate – crowded settings for example – “masking is the most effective mitigation strategy to prevent secondary transmission in schools.”

“Increase ventilation in unmasked environment.” While many schools and classroom facilities are in dire need of repairs and renovations, nothing is more urgent that updating antiquated ventilation systems. There are federal and state funds that can, and should, be used and legislators should be making sure these updates are expedited.

The notion that the most important concern over a COVID-19 vaccine shot is individual liberty misses the point.

A worry that taking the vaccine might put personal health at risk is obscure at best and unnecessary.

The best way to stem the latest increase in infections is to help make sure it doesn’t get transmitted to others. The most effective way to assure a community is protected is when individuals are vaccinated.

For families, friends, neighbors and communities — “you have a spot. Take your shot.!” Just go online, here, and make an appointment now.

Today’s editorial is from Capitol Broadcasting Company of Raleigh. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.