With cases of COVID-19 infections surging and nearly 4,000 people in North Carolina hospitalized with the deadly virus, the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) has called on Gov. Roy Cooper to take stronger “executive action” to control the disease.
NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a letter to the governor that educators are concerned about the spike in infections.
She asked Cooper to “make a difficult” decision to tighten COVID-19 restrictions to slow community spread so that schools can operate safely.
“It does not matter how fastidiously educators enforce masking and distancing mandates in the classroom if infection rates are in excess of 10 percent outside the classroom,” Walker Kelly said. “Therefore, we request that you take immediate and significant executive action to again curb community spread of this virus until such time that infection rates are again under control.”
On Wednesday, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHSS) reported 5,098 new COVID-19 cases. That was down from the 6,851 cases reported Monday. State health officials reported that 14.7% of COVID-19 tests were positive.
In late March, shortly after schools closed for in-person instruction, Cooper’s “executive action” to slow the virus, included a 30-day stay-at-home order requiring residents to remain in their homes to slow the spread of the virus.
Residents could only leave homes to visit essential businesses, exercise outside or to help a family member.
More recently, Cooper extended a modified Stay at Home Order for three weeks. Under that order, people must be home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Cooper issued the order on Dec. 11. It was supposed to expire Jan. 8. It now expires Jan. 29.
Walker Kelly noted that the N.C. Nurses Association said in a letter to Cooper last week that hospitals and medical personnel are overwhelmed.
“Despite clear guidance from your office, NC DHHS, and even the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], compliance with the masking and distancing protocols is not working well enough to prevent rampant viral spread throughout our communities,” Walker Kelly said.
She said schools can’t wait for the vaccine to slow the virus.
“The ongoing vaccine distribution is a welcome development, but it will still be several months before a significant portion of our residents receive the immunization, and our schools simply cannot wait until that point,” Walker Kelly said. “Your immediate action is necessary to save lives, and we implore you to do so.”
Walker Kelly didn’t ask Cooper to consider closing all schools to in-person instruction.
The Board of Education in Durham County has voted to close schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the year in response to the surge infections. And school districts that planned to send children into school buildings this month following the holiday break are now reconsidering those decisions.
Walker Kelly said teachers are eager to reopen schools, but only when it’s safe to do so.
“The science and research around COVID safety has evolved significantly since last March, and it is clear that schools can be among the safest of places for both students and educators when proper masking, distancing, and sanitation protocols are in place, though this can only be the case when infections within the wider community are under control,” Walker Kelly said.
Walker Kelly’s letter comes a day after a team of Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill researchers released a report showing a low-rate of in-school transmission of the virus.
The researchers studied 11 school districts with nearly 100,000 students and staff for nine weeks. They found that secondary transmissions of the virus were rare.
“Through contact tracing, NC health department staff determined an additional 32 infections were acquired within schools,” the researchers wrote. “No instances of child-to-adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools.”