Roy Cooper announces confirmation of the first novel coronavirus case in North Carolina at a press conference on Tuesday. Image courtesy of a screen grab from UNC-TV.

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North Carolina’s public K-12 schools are closed through May 15 due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday afternoon during a press briefing.

While several states have canceled in-person instruction at public schools for the rest of the academic calendar, including neighboring Virginia, Cooper said he wasn’t ready to give up on that yet.

“During the Great Depression, North Carolina’s leaders made sure that North Carolina’s schools stayed open despite tremendous funding challenges,” Cooper said. “This is a rapidly evolving public health crisis.”

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Just over two weeks ago, an earlier executive order closed schools for two weeks. Cooper’s latest one closes them for nearly another two months.

“If you are a (high school) student who was going to graduate in 2020 this June, you will still be on track to graduate this June,” N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said Monday.

Now is the time to start establishing routines with students at home rather than treating the closure like a long break, Johnson said. Stick to a schedule for waking up, meals and bedtimes.

“Your child does not have to master calculus at home,” Johnson said. “Work on remote learning, and read and write for a few hours each day.”

Cooper acknowledged that not all students throughout the state have equal access to the internet. He said he was on a conference call with internet service providers “urging them to get internet access to students who need it as quickly as possible.”

The N.C. Association of Educators issued a statement saying Cooper’s decision to shutter schools during the pandemic “is ultimately the right decision.”

State health officials said earlier Monday that at least 297 people in 45 North Carolina counties had tested positive for the new coronavirus, which can cause severe illness and death in some populations.

That group of people has now been expanded. The at-risk population includes anyone age 65 or older; people in nursing homes or long-term care facilities; those with chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma or heart disease; immunocompromised individuals; and anyone with severe obesity, diabetes or other medical conditions.

Women who are pregnant should also be monitored “since they are known to be at risk for severe viral illnesses,” said Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Epidemiologists and other health professionals have said it could take more than a year for an effective vaccine against COVID-19 to be widely distributed.

Broader closures, but no shelter-in-place order

Starting late Wednesday, Cooper’s new executive order also shutters several additional business types: gyms, health clubs, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, massage therapists and sweepstakes parlors.

Some counties had already closed many of these businesses, but Cooper’s order makes it mandatory statewide.

Gatherings that had previously been limited to fewer than 100 people have now been restricted to fewer than 50.

For now, Cooper said he would not issue a shelter-in-place order but strongly advises people to not travel unless absolutely necessary and work from home if at all possible.

Cooper used similar language earlier this month when he asked residents to avoid gatherings of 100 or more people. After several large concerts took place despite his advisory, he then signed an executive order banning gatherings of more than 100 people.

About a dozen states, including California, New York, Oregon and Ohio, have so far issued shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders, which typically close “nonessential business” and require people to stay at least 6 feet away from others when they venture out in public.

However, these are being enforced in different ways from state to state, with different definitions of what is essential and nonessential. Widespread national news media reports have indicated some states with get-tough policies have been powerless to enforce them when large crowds gathered in beaches and other public places.

Unemployment applications

Last week more than 100,000 North Carolina residents applied for unemployment benefits, the governor said during his press conference Monday.

Cooper had lessened the requirements for workers to qualify for and apply for unemployment assistance.

Over the weekend, James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said unemployment in the United States could reach 30% by June due to the pandemic.


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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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