By Nyamekye Daniel
(The Center Square) – Gov. Roy Cooper has delayed announcing plans to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Cooper previously said he would make a decision about the new school year by July 1, but he told reporters Wednesday he will not be ready to resume K-12 learning until the state has a concrete plan.
“We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure we get this right. My number one priority is opening classroom doors,” Cooper said. “We encourage our public schools to continue planning, with a special focus on how teachers, staff and students can best be protected, especially those who are high-risk.”
Public health officials June 8 released a safety guide for schools, in which the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services asked public schools to develop three customized plans for reopening based on the severity of the outbreak.
Plan A would include in-person classes with safety measures in place. Plan B would consist of fewer children in the classroom at one time. Plan C calls for distance learning only.
Cooper said he still is working with educators and health experts to figure out which plan would be best.
The state is in Phase 2 of reopening from COVID-19 restrictions until July 17. Some businesses remain closed, gatherings are limited and face coverings are mandatory in public.
Health officials said in June the decision to open schools would be based on the number of lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus, hospitalizations and emergency department visits, percentage of positive tests and the availability of tests and personal protective equipment.
The state distributed a two-month supply of personal protective equipment to 319 public and charter schools this week, Cooper’s office said.
The shipments included more than 16,500 thermometers, 7,200 face shields, 81,000 gowns and more than 347,000 surgical masks. School districts also have access to dealers for supplementary supplies.
Wednesday marked the highest day of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
NCDHHS reported 1,843 new cases Wednesday, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 66,513 since March. An average of 10% of tests have returned positive for the coronavirus.
A total of 901 people currently are hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms, and 1,373 people have died.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday urged Cooper to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and reopen schools Aug. 17.
“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school,” AAP experts said in guidelines published last week. “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”
APP research found children and adolescents are less likely to be susceptible to severe complications from COVID-19 and are low-risk for contraction and death.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of NCDHHS, said Thursday even though the scientific findings are encouraging, officials also must consider the health and safety of teachers.
“There’s still more work to do to make sure that those requirements for school reopening become a reality for our schools,” she said. “We need to be sure that teachers, school personnel and students have the face coverings they need and the resources needed to implement the comprehensive public health guidance we released last month.”