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Cooper to announce plans for N.C. schools, business reopenings next week

Cooper to announce plans for N.C. schools, business reopenings next week

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Gov. Roy Cooper will announce next week his plans to reopen the state’s public schools and the next phase of reopening North Carolina in general in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said Thursday.

The Democratic governor has caught criticism from Republican lawmakers and many in the public for keeping bars, gyms, skating rinks and other businesses closed while other places — notably restaurants that have bar-like atmospheres — were allowed to reopen. Lawmakers repeatedly passed bills for reopening businesses, and the governor vetoed them.

And after a lawsuit from bowling alleys, a judge this week ordered they can reopen and do so in a safe manner despite an executive order that had kept them closed since March.

In related news, the governor and Mandy Cohen, head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said:

There are 1,034 people in the hospital with COVID-19, a new high. Cooper said the state’s hospitals still have capacity to take in patients, but the virus is still spreading.

The number of new reported lab-confirmed cases is 2,039, the second-highest recorded in North Carolina since the pandemic began. There have been 1,461 deaths.

More than 300 free testing sites are being established to help people in under-served areas get tested for COVID-19.

However, COVID test results have become delayed in part due to a shortage of testing supplies. People have to wait almost week, and “that’s unacceptable,” Cooper said.

North Carolina is seeing “a slow and steady increase in our cases,” Cohen said, and not a major rise as seen in other states. She cited residents’ efforts to stay safe, such as by wearing masks and social distancing.

“It doesn’t mean we’re stable yet, and we have more work to do,” Cohen said. “What we’re seeing in terms of spread of virus now is really in workplace settings and at home.”

The state is also hiring 250 community health care workers to assist in historically under-served areas with high COVID-19 caseloads.

Reopening schools

The issue of how the schools will reopen has been fraught, with parents and teachers desiring to get students back in classrooms, but fears on whether this will be safe for the teachers and the students. Parents also have to balance childcare with job demands if the schools are closed.

“We know that they need to get back in school. They need to do it in a safe way,” Cooper said. “And that can be combination of in-person learning and remote learning, depending on the circumstances and depending on the student.”

He said his staffers have been working on the problem and it’s “a tough call” on how to do it.

The federal and state governments have allocated money to provide personal protective equipment (such as masks) at the schools, Cooper said. The governor added that he hopes nonprofits and other groups that traditionally raise money and collect school supplies for the schools will help with this.

Paul Woolverton can be reached at pwoolverton@fayobserver.com and 910-261-4710.

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