Why Roy Cooper Won’t Rule Out School Reopening Amid Coronavirus Surge

The head of the NC Black Alliance applauded Gov. Cooper's veto of a controversial police records bill after days of protest.

By Sarah Ovaska

July 1, 2020

Science is inconclusive, but Cooper points to early studies suggesting lower coronavirus transmission rates among children. 

Want to know if kids will be back in a classroom this fall? You’ll need to wait a bit longer to find out.

Gov. Roy Cooper punted his expected decision Wednesday afternoon on how – or if— North Carolina’s K-12 public schools will reopen this fall, saying he will release the information in the next two weeks.  

Cooper didn’t give an exact reason for his delay other than saying he and others were evaluating new information. But Wednesday did bring the highest single-day tally of positive COVID-19 cases yet, with 1,843 new cases reported.

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“What we want to happen is for our numbers to stabilize and that the number one reopening priority is public schools,” Cooper said.

To do that, North Carolinians need to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, washing their hands often and waiting 6 feet away from others.

NC On Edge for School Decision

Cooper’s decision about schools had been widely anticipated, with school districts, teachers, parents and school children eager to find out what the school year will look like when it starts up in mid- to late August

RELATED: How Younger People Are Driving NC’s Coronavirus Resurgence

The state’s 115 public school districts and charters — responsible for teaching the state’s 1.5 million school-aged children — have been mapping out the logistics of reopening scenarios. They include masked children in classrooms, rotating groups of kids coming in for shortened school days, remote learning or some other combination. The CDC is also expected to update its guidance on how schools should reopen later this week.

Meanwhile, some schools districts such as Durham Public Schools are moving toward offering an online-option regardless to interested families.

Cooper Hopes for Classroom Instruction

Cooper has said he hopes to see children back in classrooms, pointing to a recent recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics to restart in-person instruction for superior learning environments, social interactions and needed nutrition and structure for children who may come from troubled homes.  

The state is sending school districts two months’ worth of medical-grade personal protective equipment to help them prepare.

But it will be a challenge given North Carolina’s steady increase of COVID-19 cases as it sees some of its highest hospitalization rates yet.

North Carolina is also among 14 largely Southern states that have seen the virus spread at  accelerated rates, meaning 10 to 24 people out of 100,000 come down with the virus every day, according to a new analysis put out by Harvard-based researchers. 

Florida and Arizona are facing even worse scenarios, with what researchers consider “unchecked community spread” and hospitals beginning to consider rationing care.

Here in North Carolina, younger adults, between the ages of 25 to 49, have made up half of the state’s more than 65,000 positive cases, though only 5% of the 1373 deaths.

Only one child – identified by family as 8-year-old Yoshi Morena of Durham – has died from COVID-19 so far.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, who is also a medical doctor, maintained Wednesday that the risk of transmission through the schools appears to be small.

“Schools have not played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19,” Cohen said.

But the science appears to be far from conclusive on that point.

In the United States, schools around the country sent children home in late February and March, meaning there is limited data on how children may or may not transmit the virus here.

There is promise for the hope of in-person instruction, however, by looking at how childcare for emergency and health workers has functioned.

YMCAs around the country, including in North Carolina, opened their facilities to provide care for the children of health care and essential workers. The Ys collectively have cared for more than 40,000 children between 1 and 14 years old, without any records of outbreaks at any sites, according to a report last month from NPR.


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