N.C. schools closed until May 15, new restrictions on businesses instituted

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RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Monday extending the closure of all K-12 public schools across the state to in-person instruction until May 15 as part of an extension of restrictions and guidance to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.

“During the Great Depression, North Carolina’s leaders made sure that, because education was vital to our state’s future, all of our public schools stayed open in spite of tremendous funding challenges,” Cooper said during a Monday press briefing. “In the spirit of that accomplishment, I am not ready to give up on this school year. However, we know that the effects of this pandemic will not subside any time soon.”

An order from Cooper on March 14 had closed school facilities for two weeks, which was set to expire on Saturday. The extension includes Chatham County Schools’ spring break, which was scheduled for April 6-13.

The news came alongside an announcement that the State Board of Education was seeking a one-year waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for all federal student testing and accountability requirements for the current school year. State Board of Education Vice Chairman Alan Duncan said education officials have been reaching out to state legislators about possibly seeking the same relief for state testing.

“We expect that (the federal waiver) will be granted in short order,” Duncan said. “The State Board is in close contact with the General Assembly. We will continue to collaborate to address any policy and legal issues that arise during this time.”

Cooper’s order Monday also lowered the mandatory threshold of mass gatherings to no more than 50 people and mandated the closing of gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs, hair and nail salons, barbershops and massage therapists, effective Wednesday. He added that at least 8,438 people have been tested, with 297 confirmed cases in more than 40 counties, and around 10,000 more tests “waiting to be run.”

Mandy Cohen, the state’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said North Carolina has reached a point of “community transmission,” meaning that not all cases have a known origin.

“This is the role testing should play in the first phase of an outbreak has helped us understand the virus,” she said. “Confirmed community transmission signals that we need to move into the next phase of our response.”

Additionally, new guidelines from the CDC indicate that there were more people groups at risk, including people 65 and older, those with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma and people with severe obesity, and added that some studies have shown a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 among infants.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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