School closings extended across state, gathering size tighter
By Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Monday tighter assembly and business restrictions in an attempt to dull the spread of the new coronavirus, including the extended shuttering of K-12 schools until mid-May.
Cooper said he would issue a new executive order that would make it a misdemeanor for assemblies of more than 50 people, compared to the current prohibition of over 100. The 50-person limit is in keeping with the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cooper’s order also will direct all hair salons and barber shops, gyms, movie theaters and similar businesses offering activities that run counter to social distancing to close by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
And public schools statewide will now remain closed for in-person instruction until May 15. He had already ordered closings of at least two weeks beginning March 16.
“I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but are necessary to save lives,” Cooper said at a news conference. Cooper said he wasn’t giving up yet on the public school year, and education officials are working on online instructional assistance.
Restaurants and bars can remain open, but only for delivery or take-out meals. Universities have shifted to online instruction.
State health officials counted as of Monday morning nearly 300 positive COVID-19 cases, an increase of over 40 compared to Sunday. No deaths have been reported. Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham cases are over half of the total. Sunrise of Raleigh, an assisted living center, announced COVID-19 has been found there but provided no further details in a news release. A case was reported at a senior living community in Cary last week.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. But for older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
In the effort to ensure children in low-income families have enough to eat during the closures, the state’s 115 school districts, helped by food banks, churches and volunteers, had served 1.2 million meals and 6,500 snacks through Sunday, Cooper’s office said.
State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis said there’s now a statewide daily capacity to distribute 571,000 meals. The board agreed earlier Monday to seek an exception to federal K-12 testing and accountability requirements this year. President Donald Trump’s administration announced last week that states could ask for a waiver to cancel the federally mandated school testing.
Davis said he was talking with state legislative leaders about how to eliminate public school accountability mandates specific to North Carolina. The legislature convenes in late April.
Limits on commerce, including the prohibition on dining in at eateries and bars, has led to a massive number of unemployment claims in North Carolina. More than 83,000 claims had been filed as between March 16 and Saturday morning in North Carolina, of which 85% were related to COVID-19 displacement, the Division of Employment Security said.
While state and local movement restrictions haven’t halted outdoor exercising for individuals, access to dedicated places to recreate continue to diminish.
A half-dozen state parks are now completely closed, including Hanging Rock in Stokes County and Crowders Mountain west of Charlotte. Campgrounds in all North Carolina national forests closed on Monday though at least mid-May.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border shut down campgrounds, picnic areas and restrooms through the end of April.
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