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WEB EXCLUSIVE At a press conference today, Gov. Roy Cooper announced North Carolina school districts may allow all elementary school students to return for in-class learning, with required face coverings and daily symptom screening, at full capacity starting October 5.
The announcement comes as key metrics for the COVID-19 virus have stabilized across the state and officials have been able to determine that spread of the virus has slowed. Schools for older students, including all middle schools and high schools, must continue to operate under a combination of in person and virtual learning models, known as Option B, or an all virtual learning model (Option C).
Cooper and NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen emphasized that getting students back in classrooms–especially the state’s youngest students who benefit most from in person instruction– has been the state’s highest priority in coordinating its response to the pandemic.
Since school started about a month ago, Cohen said, the state has seen 10 school clusters across the state involving 16 students and 46 staff members. In the last two weeks, case numbers for school age children have declined, especially among elementary aged children.
“There don’t appear to be differences in community spread of the virus in districts where they’re operating in a hybrid in person model versus an all-remote learning model,” Cohen said. “We also have the benefit of evolving science which is currently showing that younger children are less likely to become infected, less likely to have symptoms, experience severe disease and less likely to spread the virus to others.”
COVID metrics, including the number of people presenting at emergency departments with COVID-like symptoms, the number of confirmed cases of the virus, the number of hospitalizations and the percent of positive tests, have also been declining. In the last few days, the state has recorded percent positive test rates of at or close to 5 percent, the state’s daily goal.
Cooper acknowledged that opening all elementary schools for in person learning (known as Option A) “may not be right for all school districts and families,” and said it’s important that virtual learning remain an option for all students.
“As the school year has started, I know many parents are facing difficult choices and nearly impossible balancing acts with work, other obligations and dealing with their children being home,” Cooper said. “Parenting is hard enough without a pandemic.”
He noted that teachers, principals and school support staff are doing “more than ever.”
“The more people wear masks and act responsibly, the more we slow the spread of this virus and the more children we can get safely in our schools.”
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