North Carolina’s K-12 public schools will remain closed to in-person instruction until May 15 and gatherings are restricted to no more than 50 people to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday afternoon during a press conference that he would be signing an executive order that goes into effect 5 p.m. Wednesday that, in addition to keeping schools closed, will also close gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs, hair and nail salons, and other similar facilities. Grocery stores will remain open as well restaurants providing takeout and delivery.
“I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people but they’re necessary to save lives,” Cooper said.
Right now his administration is not issuing a stay-at-home order but the situation is constantly evolving and those who are high risk are encouraged to stay home, he said.
As of Monday morning, North Carolina has 297 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 45 counties in the state.
“We continue to test and continue to see cases increasing,” Cooper said. “Even though we didn’t get enough testing supplies from the federal government that we needed, we found more ways to get people tested. And as of this morning that number of people who have been tested is at least 8,438 and there are 10,000, more tests that are waiting to be run.”
Mike Sprayberry, director of North Carolina Emergency Management, said during the press conference Monday that over the weekend the state submitted a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House for a major disaster declaration for the state.
“If granted, this declaration for the state of North Carolina will authorize many of the same programs are activated after a hurricane like disaster unemployment assistance, disaster case management, individual assistance for families and public assistance for local governments. We expect a response to our request in the coming days,” he said.
Schools have been closed since March 15 and were to reopen March 30, per a March 14 executive order. The May 15 date was chosen by looking at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health guidance. If the guidance changes, the order will be adjusted, Cooper said during the press conference.
Cooper said he’s asked the state Board of Education to collaborate with the Department of Public Instruction and legislators to develop a plan to educate students through the remainder of the school year and provide as much remote learning as possible.
“I’ve asked that the plan lay out how we’re going to make sure that school employees are able to continue to work safely and to get paid during this time,” he said.
Cooper also asked residents not to overbuy at the grocery store.
“I’ve had almost all of the grocery store officials on the phone, and they continue to tell me that supply lines are open. They are also hiring former restaurant employees, and I appreciate the people who are continuing to grow and to supply our food,” he said.
State Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said that Sunday night the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated who is at greatest risk.
“First, they codified that it is those who are 65 years and older, in terms of age that are at higher risk. Also people who are living in a nursing home, or long-term care facility,” she said, noting that is the rationale behind further limitations on visiting nursing homes in Monday’s executive order.
Other high-risk conditions include chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, heart disease with complications, people who have compromised immune systems or those with severe obesity and certain underlying medical conditions.
“The CDC also advises that women who are pregnant should be monitored, since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illnesses, however to date COVID-19 has not shown an increased risk,” she said. Children are generally lower at risk for severe infection, but some studies indicate a higher risk among infants.
“This expanded definition for high risk by the CDC further emphasizes the need for all of us to commit to social distancing. We are working on additional interventions that we can do here in North Carolina to protect our higher risk community members,” she said.
. @SecMandyCohen: We must be particularly vigilant for those who are at higher risk for more severe illness. This is a new disease and we continue to learn about it as new information becomes available. Yesterday, the CDC updated who is at greatest risk to include:
— NCDHHS (@ncdhhs) March 23, 2020
Cohen said that moving into the next phase of work, they will start tracking the virus similar to the way the flu is tracked every season.
“It is not about necessarily positive lab tests, rather our epidemiology team creates a new surveillance mechanism as we go forward, and that will help us make further decisions,” she said. “It will still give us a full picture of what’s going on in our state related to COVID-19, as we move into this next phase.”
Cooper called for volunteers in the medical field. He said to visit ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus to learn more about helping.