On Saturday, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order requiring that all K-12 public schools in North Carolina close for a minimum of two weeks in response to COVID-19. The order also banned gatherings of more than 100 people.
The executive order directed all public schools to close beginning Monday, March 16, for at least two weeks. Cooper said the two weeks would allow time to gain a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 and develop a plan for continued learning for students should a longer closure be needed.
As of Saturday night, North Carolina had 23 people in 12 counties who had tested positive for COVID-19. There were 11 in Wake County, two in Forsyth County and one each in Durham, Chatham, Johnston, Cabarrus, Harnett, Onslow, Wayne, Brunswick, Craven and Mecklenburg counties.
As of Friday, five Wilkes County residents had been tested but the results weren't back yet.
In a press conference Saturday, Cooper said, “We do not have the luxury of a wait-and-see approach. These are hard decisions but they are necessary so we can learn more about the virus.
He added,, “We do not want any regrets in the rear view mirror, and I am guided by one objective – doing what we must to keep people from getting sick and to make sure that those who do can get excellent care." He said that if her erred, he wanted to err on the side of caution
Cooper made the decision to close schools in consultation with State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson and N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, according to a press release.
Mass gatherings banned
In addition to closing schools, the executive order prohibited mass gatherings that bring together more than 100 people in a single room or space, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, theater, or other confined indoor or outdoor space, including parades, fairs and festivals. Violations of the order are punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor.
The ban on gatherings does not include airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, libraries, shopping malls and spaces where people may be in transit. Office environments, restaurants, factories, or retail or grocery stores are also excluded. It doesn't specifically address church worship services or other religious gatherings.
“As you know, we issued this as guidance on Thursday. However, despite this guidance, several venues continued their events. So, today’s order makes it mandatory. This is a risk we cannot tolerate. No concert is worth the spread of this pandemic. The people of our state are taking this seriously and need concert promoters and organizers to do the same," said Cooper.
He said the prohibition of mass gatherings will hurt people who are paid by the hour. He said it will be hard on working parents and kids who get their meals at school. We are working on efforts to deal with these challenges.
The order received concurrence by members of the N.C. Council of State without objection.
NCAE commends decision
The N.C. Association of Educators released a statement shortly after the governor’s announcement, commending his decision.
“We appreciate Gov. Cooper’s careful consideration of all the impacts a statewide closure of our public school system would have on educators, students, parents, and the wider community,” said the association’s president Mark Jewell. “Ultimately, we think this is the correct decision, and we thank him for acting decisively in the best interest of everyone involved.”
One of the confirmed cases announced Saturday is a Fuquay-Varina Elementary School teacher. Cooper said that case did not play a role in his decision to issue an executive order.
The press release said Cooper appointed an Education and Nutrition Working Group to develop a plan to ensure that children and families are supported while schools are closed. The working group will focus on innovative ways to address nutrition, health, childcare access for critical health care and other front-line workers and learning support for children at home.
Cooper said the working group would help ensure children have enough food to eat, families have care in safe places for their young children, and student learning continues.
The Working Group will be co-chaired by Susan Gale Perry, chief deputy secretary of NCDHHS and Dr. David Stegall, deputy state superintendent of innovation at DPI and will have representatives from DPI, DHHS, the State Board of Education as well as other education, nutrition and childcare associations.
“School closings was an incredibly hard and complex decision,” DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said. “School closures have major consequences for families and communities that go beyond this virus. The governor has tasked my department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Public Instruction to work together with stakeholders to make sure that our children have enough food to eat, families have options for safe places for their young children, and student learning continues.”