As COVID cases hit new high, N.C. delays K-12 reopen plans
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina public schools did not receive the statewide guidance they anticipated on Wednesday about how to reopen in the fall.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper cancelled a planned announcement on how K-12 schools should reopen, instead electing to release a proposal “within the next couple of weeks” so he can get more “buy-in across the board.”
“My No. 1 priority is making sure we reopen those school doors and get our children physically in our schools,” Cooper said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “I want to make sure we get that right.”
Cooper offered few details about the decision-making process and specific reopening concerns he’s heard. But he said he wanted to give more time for the state to gather feedback from teachers and students and evaluate new scientific studies that are highlighting the impact of the coronavirus on younger children.
He also hopes the delay will help school districts draft more comprehensive plans for three reopening scenarios the state outlined on June 8. Plan A calls for in-person learning with health and safety rules in place. Plan B mirrors the former but calls for fewer children in the classroom at one time. Plan C provides for remote learning for all.
The decision to postpone an announcement comes as North Carolina saw its largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases at 1,843 on Wednesday. Around 900 people were hospitalized, with the number hovering around its high mark for about a week since peaking at 915 late last month.
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said she is concerned about teacher safety but confident in studies showing the virus having minimal health consequences on younger children.
“Schools have not played a significant role in the spreading of COVID 19,” Cohen said. “Children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19. And for children who do become infected with COVID-19, they seem to be less likely to transmit it to others. We will continue to have to evaluate the scientific research carefully on this, but the current science is encouraging.”
Though no statewide guidance has recently been issued for colleges, Cooper said Cohen has had recent conversations with University of North Carolina System President Bill Roper about how best to resume in-person instruction for college students.
“We are well aware that parents, teachers, students are so anxious to know about school in the fall, and that is from K-12 all the way through our community colleges and universities,” Cooper said. “We’re continuing to get new science and new reports, and a lot of work has been going over the last few months among educators and public health officials.”
While coronavirus cases hit a new high on Wednesday, Cohen insisted the state has not seen “the skyrocketing cases that we’re seeing in other states.” Younger kids and adults are also least at risk of contracting the virus.
Data from the state health department shows nearly four in five of the state’s 1,373 COVID-related deaths to date were among adults at least 65 years old. Only two children have died from the coronavirus in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic, and two others between the ages of 18 and 24 also died, according to DHHS data.
“We don’t want to have to go backwards, and that’s what we’re seeing in Florida and in Texas and in Arizona,” Cohen said. “They have to go backwards. We don’t want to have to go backwards. We want to make progress. We want to get our kids back to school, and that’s why we needed to pause our reopening for now.”
Follow Anderson at https://twitter.com/BryanRAnderson
Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.