COVID-19, NC Budget and Tax Center

N.C. child care industry continues to experience widespread closures, enrollment decline

Survey data from the end of June reveals that more than 1 in 4 child care programs remain closed in North Carolina, three months after the state locked down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and almost two months after a phased re-opening process began.

While the statewide closure rate has declined slightly since the end of May, when 1 in 3 programs were closed, persistently elevated closures raise concerns about the industry’s immediate well-being and long-term financial viability.

Even after taking into account the seasonal fluctuations in the opening of centers and the sometimes strong connection of child care providers to public school facilities, the rate of closures statewide should remain a concern for the prospects of reopening with the support of quality early childhood opportunities for every child. Among child care programs that reported being closed at the end of June, fewer than 1 in 4 exclusively serve school-age children.

Moreover, providers that are currently open report dramatic declines in enrollment compared with pre-COVID-19 numbers. On average, open child care centers are serving 44 percent fewer students than when the pandemic began, and they are likely facing higher costs of keeping children and staff safe while receiving reduced revenue.

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COVID-19, News

COVID hospitalizations surpass 1,000, NC governor pledges a decision next week on reopening schools

It’s a threshold state health officials were likely dreading.

More than one thousand North Carolinians are now hospitalized as a result of COVID-19.

Sec. Mandy Cohen says facial coverings and other protocol can help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Thursday also brought 2,039 new cases of the virus, with eight to ten percent of tests this week coming back positive.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said while other states are seeing a dangerous shortage of hospital beds and room in their ICUs, North Carolina still has capacity.

“We need to remain vigilant is slowing the spread of the virus,” Dr. Cohen advised. “Flattening the curve is not a one time thing. It takes constant effort and attention to keep it flat.”

Mecklenburg County remains one area where state health officials have the greatest concern.

That county has registered 13,757 positive cases of the coronavirus and 158 deaths since March. That is more than double the number recorded in Wake County.

Governor Cooper said he’d also like to see more business executives, elected officials and even sports figures wearing face coverings in public and talking about the benefits.

“We just need leaders across the state of all stripes to step up and help us with this,” said Cooper. “This is the best way to get our economy going full speed again.”

The governor offered few specifics Thursday on how schools would safely reopen in August, saving that announcement for next week.

Governor Roy Cooper

His top health official acknowledged there would likely be logistical challenges as students and teachers re-enter the classroom.

“In terms of folks who come in close contact with someone who is a confirmed positive, whether it’s in a school or another setting, we want close contacts to stay home and stay quarantined for 14 days,” Cohen advised.

Face coverings, social distancing and good hand hygiene go a long way to protecting people from the virus.

Cooper said that additional protocols would be offered to schools in the next few days, as well as an announcement on whether the state can enter the next phase of opening. That reopening process was paused two weeks ago.

“I think it’s really important that we separate all of the politics here, and talk about what’s best for our children. We know they need to get back in school and do it in a safe way.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump criticized the CDC guidelines for schools to reopen, and threatened to cut federal funding if states did not open their schools this fall.

Source: NCDHHS

COVID-19, Education

Battling COVID-19 and flu season will challenge schools, health experts say

COVID-19 hit North Carolina in March, months after the flu season.

The state  got a break; it didn’t experience the traditional flu season along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’ll be different in the fall when schools reopen for in-person learning. October, November and December are peak flu months. Students, teachers and support staff with a cough or fever will likely be asked to stay home, said Kenya McNeal-Trice, incoming president of the N.C. Pediatric Society.

“You may have the flu or the common cold, but given our concerns, that still may put you out of the classroom until you prove otherwise that you don’t have COVID and are asymptomatic,” McNeal-Trice said.

Kenya McNeal-Trice

McNeal-Trice made her comments Wednesday’s to the State Board of Education. She attended the board’s remote meeting to provide a COVID-19 update along with Susan Gale-Perry, chief deputy Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and State Health Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson.

They provided this primer on navigating COVID-19 in schools.

The prospect of educators and students being forced to miss school due to non-COVID-19 related illnesses highlights the complex environment they will enter when schools reopen.

“That’s going to be hard not only for our teachers and support staff, but also for our students who may have extended days that they miss from school from viral illnesses that are completely unrelated to COVID,” McNeal-Trice said.

She said reopening plans must be “nimble” and that educators, students and parents must be able to adapt and also be resilient.

“We need to recognize that something that may work for us at one point, we may have come to a short place down the road and find out that we need to adjust and that we need to adjust quickly,” McNeal-Trice said.

Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson

Tilson said health officials are planning with the best data available but make adjustments as they learn more about the virus.

“I think the one thing you can be sure of and say with certainty is that things are going to change,” Tilson said. “We’re going to learn more and we’re going to have to adapt, we’re going to have change policies.”

Public schools in North Carolina could reopen Aug. 17.

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper postponed deciding which of the three reopening plans the state will use.

Plan A calls for schools to fully reopen with daily temperature and screen checks before students and staff members can enter buildings. Meanwhile, under Plan B, students would receive both in-person and remote instruction. All students would receive remote instruction under Plan C.

SBE member Olivia Oxendine noted that NCDHHS “strongly recommends” that school districts provide a remote option for students at high risk of contracting the disease. She said students who benefit the most from in-person instruction are too often the ones at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s almost like we’ve got a population of students who are disadvantaged, of all colors, who just can’t seem to win from this, and it breaks my heart,” Oxendine said.

McNeal-Trice there are no perfect solutions, and none without risks.

“We are continuing to see the children and families that are most vulnerable to a lot of things that are outside of our control such as natural disasters and illness and pandemics who are the ones desperately affected,” McNeal-Trice said.

SBE member James Ford asked if health officers have considered the plight of teachers and support staff who will be at risk of contracting the virus when schools reopen.

“On the one hand, a lot of the conversation is centered on the safety of the children, which is appropriate,” Ford said. “That’s Job 1, to keep our students safe in a school.”

But because adults are more susceptible to infections, Ford said he worries about staff and teachers who belong to vulnerable populations and lack access to healthcare, are disproportionately contracting the coronavirus and are disproportionately dying from the disease.

Tilson said precautions such wearing a facemask and social distancing put in place to keep students safe will also keep teachers and support staff safe.

SBE member JB Buxton said his takeaway from the COVID-19 update is that the state has a small window to take the appropriate steps needed to reopen schools safely for educators and students.

“We’ve got to as a state embrace the opportunity to get our kids back in school, to allow parents to get back to work,” Buxton said. “We have to commit to doing the things we know we need to do to reduce our infection rates, to reduce our hospitalization numbers so that becomes a real possibility.”

NCDHHS Secretary Many Cohen said Wednesday that key COVID-19 metrics are moving in the wrong direction. North Carolina has nearly 1,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. There were 1,435 new confirmed cases of coronavirus reported Wednesday. That pushed the total to 77,310 confirmed cases. There were 1,441 deaths.

Buxton said that given the current reality, North Carolina is “endangering the opportunity” for students to return to schools in the fall.


COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill announces 37 members of athletic community positive for COVID-19

Thirty-seven members of the UNC-Chapel Hill athletics community have tested positive for COVID-19 since student athletes began returning to campus for conditioning and practices, the school announced Wednesday.

The school is not identifying those who are positive or saying from which sport program they come, but the Orange County Health Department has identified a cluster — at least five cases — that are related. Players and coaches for the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the football team are on campus now. Coaches and staff for soccer, cross country, field hockey and volleyball  have all already returned to campus. Students for those sports are scheduled to return later this month.

The Bell Tower on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The football program will halt its voluntary workouts for at least a week, the school said in a release.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has repeatedly refused to say how many infections would make the school reconsider its plan for bringing students back to campus or lead to a return to online-only education at the school. He has said that clusters of infections, such as the one now apparent nearly a month before students are scheduled to return to campus for classes, would be a serious concern.

Student-athletes who tested positive will be required to self-isolate for up to 14 days until they test negative, the school said in its Wednesday release. All coaches and staff members who test positive are also required to isolate at home for up to two weeks. Those who are considered ‘close contacts’ of those who have tested positive will also be told to self-isolate.

UNC Hospitals and Campus Health have performed 429 tests since June 1.

“The safety and well-being of our campus and local community has been our top priority when building our plans for return,” the school said in the release. “We have consulted our infectious disease experts as well as state and local officials during the process.”

The announcement comes the same day that a UNC-system wide petition was launched by faculty to make online courses the default for the fall semester , citing record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the state.

“Because the COVID-19 epidemic is not yet under control and because communities surrounding our campuses are put at risk by campus activities, it is unsafe for students and instructors to return to face-to-face instruction,” the petition states. “Online or remote teaching should be the default mode on all campuses during the fall 2020 semester.”


COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

UNC System-wide petition urges a move online rather than return to campuses

This week a new UNC System-wide petition is calling on the system’s leaders to reconsider a mass return to the 17 UNC campuses next month as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen in North Carolina.

As the state continues to post record days of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations the faculty, students and staff at the universities have continued to push back against a plan for students to return to face-to-face instruction while living in full capacity dorms on campus. The new petition makes specific requests in three areas:

1. Move online: Because the COVID-19 epidemic is not yet under control and because communities surrounding our campuses are put at risk by campus activities, it is unsafe for students and instructors to return to face-to-face instruction; online or remote teaching should be the default mode on all campuses during the fall 2020 semester.

2. Be transparent: Increase participation of faculty, students and staff in decision-making and improve communication between and among administrators, faculty, students and staff.

3. Protect the health and economic well-being of the university community:  Routinely test individuals, implement thorough and rigorous contact tracing, and provide protective equipment to all those who must be on campus. Ensure the continued employment of campus employees. We oppose all COVID-19-related furloughs and terminations of vulnerable workers and those who are essential to the core academic mission.

Dr. Cat Warren

The petition included more than 30 initial signatures from professors at UNC-Chapel, Hill, N.C. State, Western Carolina University, Appalachian State University, N.C. Central University, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Charlotte, East Carolina University and Fayetteville State University. As of Wednesday afternoon it had gathered more than 400 signatures.

Cat Warren, a professor of English at N.C State, said it’s increasingly clear that bringing students back with 60% of classes face-to-face — a number that’s been suggested at several UNC System schools — is simply not safe under the current conditions.

“We’re seeing enormous spikes in infection and hospitalization in North Carolina and we’re certainly seeing younger people getting infected,” Warren said. “I think the cautionary principle should be in play here rather than the gung-ho thing of, ‘We’re going to give the students that university campus experience that they’ve been wanting but they may end up dying for.'”

It also needs to be clearer who is making some of the decisions about safety, Warren said. Faculty and staff across the system feel they have not been properly consulted and aren’t certain which mandates are coming down from the UNC System office and which are happening at a campus level.

“These are state schools,” Warren said. “The taxpayer is significant here. The degree to which there should be transparency, that there’s an obligation for transparency, is clear to me. But we’re really not getting that. There seems to be a jumble of recommendations.”

Hybrid courses should allow a small number of students and faculty who need to return to campus to do so, Warren said — but that shouldn’t be the default mode and expectation. Instead, the schools should invest in and concentrate on giving students the best online experience they can during this time of national crisis.

“I think the kinds of resources being put into building a weird little false front that pretends it’s safety would be so much better used in doing a deep dive into the kinds of online resources that could really help students and faculty,” Warren said.

“I don’t think our petition is saying ‘shut the entire thing down,'” Warren said. “But the plan we have now is a recipe for disaster — both for the universities and the communities around them.”