Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that state officials must “get it right” before issuing a directive to reopen schools.
Cooper delayed choosing from among three school reopening plans under consideration by the state.
He said he would decide on one soon.
“My No. 1 opening priority is classroom doors,” Cooper said during an afternoon press conference. “We encourage our public schools to continue that planning with a special focus on how teachers, staff and students can best be protected, especially those who are high risk.”
Cooper said year-round schools and other schools scheduled to reopen this month should provide remote instruction until a reopening plan is chosen. Traditional public schools can open as early as Aug.17, about a week earlier than they usually do.
“That [decision] will be made soon enough for schools to go back in August,” Cooper said.
School districts were asked to develop three reopening plans; one for a full reopening, another that would have students in classrooms part-time and learning from home part-time and a third for full-time remote learning.
“Our goal remains getting children back in classrooms for in-person instruction that’s safe for students and their teachers,” Cooper said.
But for that to happen, the governor said North Carolinians must do their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“We need everyone to do what works, the three Ws,” Cooper said. “Wear a face covering over your mouth and nose, wash your hands, wait six feet apart, especially the face covering part, which we learn every day to be more and more important to this process.”
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, noted that international research shows children have not played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19.
“Children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19,” Cohen said. “And for children who do become infected with COVID-19, they seem to be less likely to transmit it to others. We’ll have to continue to evaluate the scientific research carefully on this, but the current science is encouraging.”
Cohen said any decision about reopening schools must consider the well-being of educators.
“We can and we must lower the risk of returning to in-person school further,” she said.
Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, called Cooper’s approach “thoughtful and thorough.”
“COVID information is changing on a daily basis, and the health and safety of all of our state’s educators, students, and their families is at stake,” Kelly said. “It is far more important to get this decision right than to get it done quickly.”
Cooper used Wednesday’s press conference to annouce that personal protective equipment (PPE) has been distributed to schools across North Carolina. “PPE Starter Packs” include a two-month supply of thermometers, surgical masks, face shields and gowns. The PPE will be used by school nurses and others who provide health care to students.
Cooper’s punt on choosing a school reopening plan came as North Carolina set a single-day record for adding COVID-19 cases.
There were 1,843 new cases on Wednesday, which pushed the state’s total to more than 66,500 since March, according to NCDHHS statistics.
There are 901 people in North Carolina are hospitalized due to the coronavirus and 1,373 people have died.
Cooper warned citizens to keep their guards up over the Fourth of July weekend.
“This virus is just as contagious and deadly on a holiday as it is on any other day,” Cooper said. “I know we want to gather with family and friends, but we have to remember that a large gathering, especially without masks and social distancing is one of the most likely places for COVID-19 to spread.”