Gov. Roy Cooper discusses the state's response to coronavirus during a press conference on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Screen grab from UNC-TV.

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Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Saturday closing all K-12 public schools for the next two weeks due to the spread of coronavirus in North Carolina.

The order also shutters all gatherings with 100 or more people until further notice.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Cooper said during a press conference Saturday afternoon. “What we have to do is be ready to make quick, tough decisions.”

Teachers in public schools will continue to get paid, Cooper said. State and local officials are examining how to continue teaching if the closure endures.

One teacher in Wake County tested positive for COVID-19, but that did not play a role in Cooper’s decision, he said.

He urged local schools leaders to come up with “smart solutions for child care” and meal service during the closure.

“We are concentrating our efforts for children of front-line health care workers who we know are going to need to be at work,” Cooper said.

“Our lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic, but we are going to get through this.”

He also asked district staff to come up with ideas to feed children during the closure. One unnamed district plans to use school buses to deliver meals along bus routes.

Several school districts across the state had already closed their schools to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Saturday afternoon announcement follows a series of tightening restrictions on public life, and the continued encouragement for proper handwashing procedures and social distancing to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus of COVID-19.

Cooper and state school leaders cited the growing anxiety from parents and teachers as a factor in deciding to close schools for two weeks.

The right step?

The Centers for Disease Control says in an area without community spread of the virus, it’s better to “teach and reinforce healthy hygiene” such as handwashing, limiting mass gatherings and intensifying cleaning and disinfecting rooms.

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While the CDC says short to medium closures don’t have an effect on the course of an epidemic, “there may be some impact of much longer closures (8 weeks, 20 weeks) further into community spread.”

Hong Kong, the CDC said, closed its schools, and Singapore did not. Hong Kong did not have more success in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Coping with closures

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Mark Johnson said he’s told superintendents to do what is best for their students, teachers and families.

“Let us worry about the legislative repercussions later,” Johnson said Saturday afternoon.

“We will worry about the funding, the calendar flexibility and the testing waivers.”

In the pasts, districts in North Carolina have closed for weather emergencies or when absenteeism rises due to flu outbreaks.

Limits on assembly

Cooper’s prohibition to cancel all gatherings of 100 or more people does not apply to restaurants, transit hubs or retail stores.

He first asked North Carolinians to limit gatherings, but he said that request did not stop some concert venues from moving forward with their events.

“This is a risk we cannot tolerate,” Cooper said.

“No concert is worth the spread of this pandemic. The people of our state are taking this seriously and we need concert promoters and event organizations to do the same.”

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said she expects to see more positive cases for COVID-19, but she’s buoyed by the lack of evidence for community spread of the virus.

“We are acting as if community spread is already here, even though it isn’t, so we can slow the spread of the virus as soon as possible,” she said.

“We will continue to watch the numbers, but I think we are taking the right steps forward.”

Violating the ban on public gatherings is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Status of coronavirus in NC

As of Saturday morning, 23 people in 11 North Carolina counties have tested positive, or presumptive positive for COVID-19, according to the official tally from DHHS.

There have been no known deaths in North Carolina from the virus, but there have been increasing numbers of deaths across the country and around the world. Carolina Public Press is posting daily status updates on coronavirus in North Carolina.

COVID-19 can cause severe illness and death, especially for people age 65 and older. Those above age 80 or who have underlying health issues like immune disorders, hypertension, diabetes or lung diseases are the most at risk.

For additional information on the medical aspects of coronavirus and a help with North Carolina resources, including links to the sites for all school districts in the state, see the Carolina Public Press Resource Guide for Coronavirus in North Carolina.


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Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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