NC public schools to stay closed for remainder of school year

NC public schools to stay closed for remainder of school year
NC Gov. Cooper announced all NC public schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. (Source: WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper made a difficult decision on Friday.

All in-person instruction has been canceled statewide at public schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor’s decision was made with state education leaders, including Superintendent Mark Johnson, at his side.

Students and staff are still expected to continue schoolwork remotely.

“Today, we’ve had to make another tough choice," Cooper said. "We’ve decided to continue with remote learning for the rest of the school year for our K through 12 public schools. Classrooms may be closed, but the learning is not over.”

Johnson said that while there was hope schools could eventually reopen this school year, the current COVID-19 situation in North Carolina does not make that possible.

“Teachers, staff, and students were hopeful that they could return to the classroom, but that is just not practical at this point,” Johnson said. “However, I want to assure everyone that this will not be the new normal. While this crisis has forced us to be reactive over the last month, plans for the next school year are already underway and will be proactive. We will share more on these proactive measures soon.”

Johnson praised the work that educators and parents across North Carolina have done to help students continue their studies while schools have been closed.

“We all had to switch to remote learning overnight,” he said. “Many children, like my own, are working through the difficult emotional toll of this frightening time. And, we are all stuck at home; all day, every day.”

The NC Department of Public Instruction has continued to work to make sure that students and families have the resources they need.

That includes providing ways to get instructional materials to students, but also making sure they have access to things such as proper nutrition.

The state has been working closely with local school districts to provide whatever assistance they might need during this time.

“All of us have been impacted by COVID-19 in some way," Cooper said. "Our children and their parents have had some of the most abrupt disruptions to their lives and routines. Teachers, who they see in real life, are now only seen on computer screens, friends are distant and ballfields are empty and the hum of hallways have turned to silence.”

Schools had been originally closed to students and staff for in-person instruction until at least May 15.

That changed Friday afternoon.

“It’s such a confusing time to be a child and it is a hard time to be a parent, especially a working parent,” Cooper said. “We all know children can ask the toughest questions, probably more now than ever.”

More than 40 states and Washington, D.C., have already said students will not return for the rest of this school year.

“COVID-19 has necessitated innovation,” said NC State Board of Education Board Member Eric Davis. “Educators throughout North Carolina have, without hesitation, are answering this call. It is with great admiration that we express appreciation for the district and school leaders for providing vision and direction, teachers for serving as education’s first responders by maintaining critical connections while nurturing students’ social and emotional well-being. Countless child nutrition, transportation, and other support staff are ensuring our most vulnerable students continue to receive nutritious meals.”

Cooper said plans are being discussed for the next school year. The governor says safety is a top priority in making sure how students and staff return to schools.

“Already, plans are being made about how we safely reopen schools in the next school year, thinking about spacing, thinking about common areas, thinking about hygiene,” Cooper said. “One of the reasons we are trying to make sure schools have sufficient funding is because we know this will cost more. Those decisions are going to be made by looking at the science data and facts and seeing how much we can do and how we can do it with the public health and safety of our students being No. 1.”

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) has canceled all remaining winter championships and spring sports.

On Thursday, Cooper extended North Carolina’s stay-at-home order until May 8.

The state has been consulting with education leaders, parents and health officials on what to do, as it refers to the schools.

South Carolina announced on Wednesday that its schools will be closed for the remainder of the year.

“We want our schools to be safe and we want our children to be safe," Cooper said. “I am so proud of our teachers, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, our parents, people who are working so hard to make sure children are getting enough remote learning that they can possibly get, and are getting the nutrition (the children) need.”

Last week, Dr. Mandy Cohen, with the NC Department of Health and Human Services, said certain criteria needed to happen before opening the school doors.

She said the state needs more appropriate testing, more personal protective equipment, improved data and to expand its efforts to do contact tracing.

“I know this virus is going to be with us until we have a vaccine,” Cohen said. “These are the kinds of decisions we need to think about.”

Cohen said on Thursday that North Carolina is flattening the curve based on data.

Fewer people are getting sick at the same time, and that there has been a slowed rate of acceleration, meaning that it is taking longer for number of cases to double.

“This is data point is driven by people seeking care,” Cohen said. “We are still learning about this surveillance metric, but it is declining, and that’s a good thing.”

North Carolina health officials reported a total of 8,052 cases of coronavirus across 93 counties Friday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Sixteen additional deaths were also reported across the state, bringing the total to 269.

The latest number includes 1,407 cases in Mecklenburg County, with 35 deaths, according to NCDHHS.

NCDHHS reported eight COVID-19 outbreaks at Mecklenburg County’s long-term care facilities, with eight deaths.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he has signed an Executive Order to help furloughed workers whose employers have paid them a severance or furlough payment. Before the order, those workers were ineligible for employment compensation, but can now apply.

“We know this virus is taking a toll on our economy and on our workforce,” Cooper said, “and we can’t lose sight of how this virus is impacting our families in North Carolina.”

During a previous press conference, Cooper said in order to ease the current restrictions, North Carolina needs to make progress in three areas: testing, tracing and monitoring COVID-19 trends.

“This virus is going to be with us until there is a vaccine, which may be a year or more away," Cooper said. "As we ease restrictions, we are going to enter a new normal.”

“Our efforts to flatten the curve are working. And that means we have saved lives. The stay at home orders are working, but we know our current situation is not sustainable in the long run,” Cooper continued. “I know people are wondering, where do we go from here?”

Cooper said that experts say it would be “dangerous to lift restrictions all at once.” He said officials have to monitor for troubling signs of a spike in cases that could overwhelm our hospitals and risk lives.

Health officials say that 1 percent of those infected by the coronavirus in North Carolina are under 18, 6 percent are 18 to 24, 39 percent are between ages of 25 and 49 years old, 28 percent are between ages 50 and 64 and 25 percent are older than 65 years old.

As of Thursday, 96,185 tests had been conducted. At least 486 patients were still hospitalized.

RECOVERY

An accurate number of coronavirus recoveries has been released in North Carolina. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of Health and Human Services, says scientists are working to determine a recovery number, but the problem is that some may define a recovery differently.

“How are we defining recovery? So how do we know – how do we document a recovery number?"Cohen said, reiterating a question that was asked to her. "We don’t all define recovery the same.”

During a press conference, state leaders said there were plans to reopen a hospital in Hamlet, about an hour and a half from Charlotte, that shut down in 2017. N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said the hospital is going to be prepared so that its beds can be ready to help with a possible upcoming surge of COIVD-19 patients.

During the conference, Gov. Cooper also said he signed an executive order in conjunction with NCDHHS to fast track child care for essential workers.

Financial aid is available to parents and caregivers who are essential workers and who meet the following criteria:

  • Their income is below 300 percent of the poverty line;
  • They are an essential worker fighting COVID-19 or protecting the health and safety of communities; and
  • They feel they have no other viable child care options available to them.

Child care teachers and staff that work in programs serving essential workers will also see bonuses in their pay in April and May. NCDHHS will pay child care programs staying open to serve essential workers $300 per month for each full-time teacher and $200 per month for each full-time non-teaching staff member, including administrators, janitors and other support staff.

Bonus payments will be paid by the child care programs to all eligible staff during their regular pay periods. Part-time workers are also eligible for prorated bonus awards.

If you are an essential worker and need help with child care, you can call a hotline at 1-888-600-1685 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

During a press conference last week, Cooper announced he had signed an executive order to prohibit utility companies from shutting off services to people who are unable to pay.

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said the “insidious virus” has forced N.C. businesses to lay off hundreds of thousands of people.

“It is orders of magnitude greater than any two-week period during the Great Recession," Stein said.

“I know it’s hard, but prevention is still the single most important thing you can do right now,” Cooper said. “If we don’t slow the infection, our medical system will be stretched beyond its capacity.”

Cohen echoed that statement.

“We do not have vaccines or a treatment. Social distancing is the only tool we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 so fewer people get sick at the same time and so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals,” said Cohen.

“I can’t stress it enough - your actions matter. Staying at home matters. Staying home will save lives,” Cohen continued. “I know this is really, really hard. Most of us have never lived through a time where we’ve had to take this kind of collective action to change our way of life in a matter of a couple days. In many ways this is like a war, right here at home, and our enemy is this virus.”

Cohen said if you’re leaving your house, it should be limited to getting groceries, picking up medication or going for a walk outside. If you’re working at an essential business, Cohen urged, you still need to follow social distancing guidelines.

Ninety-six N.C. counties are now under a state of emergency.

North Carolina is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have widespread transmission, meaning some people who have tested positive don’t know how they were infected.

“Because no one is immune and there’s no vaccination the best tool we have to slow the spread is keeping our physical distance and staying home,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said.

That’s why the governor issued the statewide stay-at-home order. The order went into effect at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 30.

“It truly is a matter of life and death,” Cooper said. “Even with the uncertainty of these times and the new pace of our lifestyles, we know that the good parts of our lives as North Carolinians will return. We fight this disease now so that we are better able to defeat it in the future.”

Cooper announced that more than 219,000 people have filed unemployment claims since March 16, as of Friday afternoon. The first unemployment benefits will be paid early next week.

Health officials say individuals and families can call 2-1-1 for assistance from the operation center.

Health officials said North Carolina currently has 18,557 in-patient beds in the state, and 6,953 of those are currently empty. There is also 3,223 intensive care beds in the state, and about 920 of those are empty.

Those numbers do not include extra, incoming beds that have been requested, officials added.

Cooper addressed the virus as a “cruel and contagious sickness,” after North Carolina announced its first coronavirus-related deaths.

The first person, from Cabarrus County and in their late seventies, died on March 24 from complications associated with the virus. The patient had several underlying medical conditions.

“Today is a stark reminder that we must take this disease seriously,” Cooper said after the state’s first coronavirus-related death.

“We’ve got to do everything we can do to help that family that’s wondering where the next paycheck is going to come [from],” Cooper said, noting that families who were on the edge have “fallen off the cliff.”

Cooper says the “number one mission right now is to save lives” and protect the people of North Carolina.

Cohen spoke with county managers across the state as well, stating that about 20 percent of people who contract the virus will need hospital-level care, while 80 percent who test positive for coronavirus will get mild illness.

For reference, Cohen pointed out that some of our worst flu seasons only needed 2 percent of hospital-level care.

All public K-12 schools will remain closed until May 15 under an executive order signed by Cooper.

Cooper said that despite not getting all the coronavirus tests the state requested, North Carolina has found more ways to get people who need it tested. Monday afternoon, Cooper said, there were at least 8,438 tests completed with 10,000 more tests waiting to be run.

Director of Emergency Management Michael Sprayberry said North Carolina has sent a request to FEMA and the White House for a Major Disaster Declaration, which would authorize “may of the same programs activated after a hurricane.”

Sprayberry said North Carolinians can still call 211 with any questions related to the coronavirus or assistance.

COVID-19 TIMELINE

Gov. Cooper also previously issued an executive order that closes bars and restaurants to dine-in customers. The order unlocked unemployment benefits for those who lost, or lose, their job during the coronavirus outbreak.

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