Feb 2, 2021

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript February 2: Urges In-Person Schooling

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript February 2
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsNorth Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript February 2: Urges In-Person Schooling

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference on COVID-19 on February 2. He urged schools to resume in-person learning. Read the full transcript of the news briefing here.

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Governor Cooper: (02:00)
Okay, good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining today’s COVID-19 update in North Carolina. As of today, North Carolina has had 764,228 confirmed cases, 2,926 new cases reported since yesterday, 2,741 people in the hospital, and sadly 9,409 people who’ve died. We’re praying for those who are fighting this virus and those who’ve lost loved ones and friends to COVID-19.

Governor Cooper: (02:38)
Today we continue to see stabilization in our COVID numbers. The number of hospitalizations has dropped for eight straight days, along with decreases in our confirmed cases and percent positive. Although these numbers are still too high, we are encouraged. Still, we must not let our guard down, and we all need to wear a mask and practice social distancing anytime we leave our homes.

Governor Cooper: (03:10)
Protecting public health has been the top priority since the start of this pandemic. We’ve taken decisive action to put strong safety protocols in place, including in our schools. When the pandemic first hit in March, we moved to remote instruction to keep people safe from this virus that we knew little about. We asked science and public health experts to develop safety plans to help students continue learning, whether they were in the classroom or at home. Learning has continued. Educators, parents, and students have persevered. We’ve learned much more about this virus, and now it’s time to get our children back into the classroom.

Governor Cooper: (03:59)
Protecting the health and safety of the people of this state, especially our children and our teachers, has been our goal. And since North Carolina went to all remote instruction at the beginning of this pandemic, our number one priority has been getting our children safely back into the classroom. We know school is important for reasons beyond academic instruction. School is where students learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voice. And teachers and staff play an important role in keeping students safe by identifying cases of abuse, hunger, homelessness, and other challenges that students face outside of school. At least 90 of our 115 school districts are doing just that, by providing in-person instruction for some, or all of our students right now. What’s new is that research done right here in North Carolina tells us that in-person learning is working. And that students can be in classrooms safely, with the right safety protocols in place.

Governor Cooper: (05:16)
Today I’m joined by our state education leaders to strongly urge that all schools provide in-person learning for their students. In addition, it’s critically important that these schools strictly follow the safety protocols laid out by the Department of Health and Human Services. That guidance reinforces the importance of in-person learning, while maintaining strong public health measures to protect students, teachers, staff, and families.

Governor Cooper: (05:45)
Students should still have the option of remote learning this school year if that’s best for them. And the teachers who are at risk, should be providing that remote instruction. But students who are ready to return to the classrooms, should have that chance. This pandemic has tested us in different ways. But our educators and school staff have never stopped showing up for our students. Our teachers have worked to engage our students, whether remotely or in-person. Our custodial staff has worked to keep schools clean and safe. Our bus drivers have gotten meals to students and taken them to and from school safely. I know how hard you’re working, and that your state appreciates deeply your extraordinary service.

Governor Cooper: (06:33)
Parents deserve a lot of credit right now too, and I thank them. We know they’ve served as teacher assistants at home, on top of their jobs and other responsibilities. And our students have worked hard to learn amid unprecedented challenges. I’m so grateful for the way people have stepped up for our schools.

Governor Cooper: (06:54)
Our team and health officials have worked closely with the Department of Public instruction and Superintendent Catherine Truitt, and the State Board of Education and its chairman, Eric Davis. We’re committed to working together on this, and you will hear from them in a moment. But first I want to recognize Dr. Mandy Cohen, our Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Cohen.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (07:23)
Thank you, Governor. Before I talk about our strong track record in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, I want to share a few quick announcements. First, North Carolina has now administered more than one million COVID-19 vaccine doses across the state. That’s an incredible milestone. Second, we have expanded our call center to help answer your questions about vaccine, whether we want to know about the vaccine and how they work, when you’re eligible to take your shot, or where your spot is to get a vaccine. You can call 888-675- 4567 seven days a week. Third, we launched a new online tool where you can enter your zip code, or your current location, to find nearby vaccine providers. Remember, supply of vaccine is extremely limited so you may have to wait for an appointment, even if you’re currently eligible to get your vaccine. Last, please join us tonight on our social media channels as we livestream a conversation on vaccines with Reverend Doctor William Barber.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (08:32)
Okay, now back to schools. From the outset of the pandemic, Governor Cooper took early and aggressive action to protect the health of North Carolinians. We have been guided by data and the developing science. It was that data and science that prompted us to allow school districts to go back to in-person instruction last July. At time, the emerging evidence showed that school was a lower risk setting, and that we could further reduce risk for students, teachers, and staff with strong guidance and preventive measures.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (09:06)
In the almost seven months since, ongoing research continues to reaffirm the early science that guided those decisions. Children, particularly younger children, continue to be less likely to get and spread COVID-19 in adults. When children do get COVID-19, most have very mild illness. Only in very rare instances have children developed severe symptoms. New studies also reaffirm that strong prevention measures, like the ones we have here for our North Carolina schools, they work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cited North Carolina as an example that schools can reopen safely, even during periods of high community transmission, when they follow those COVID-19 safety protocols.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (09:59)
A study by North Carolinas ABC Collaborative found that if someone is attending school, had COVID-19, it was very unlikely that they got COVID-19 at school, or that they gave it to anyone else at the school. And in the schools that the collaborative studied, there were no cases of student-to-staff transmission. This is consistent with other studies in the United States and around the world that show children rarely transmit COVID-19 to other children, and rarely transmit it to adults in an in-person school setting.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (10:35)
It comes down to strong public health safety measures in our school. Since August, at least 90 of our states 115 school districts, have provided in-person instruction for some, or all, of their students using those safety protocols. Even with the thousands of students and teachers attending school in-person across the state, we have seen few COVID-19 clusters in our public schools. And now as a Wake County Public School parent myself, I want to thank all the teachers and staff that have gone over and above to implement the safety protocols so my first and third grader could attend in-person school this year. Our department will continue to serve our school communities offering resources and support so we can keep our school doors open.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (11:23)
And no matter how old you are, or where you go, practice those three W’s whenever you’re with people who you don’t live with; wear a mask, wait six feet apart, and wash your hands often. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Cooper: (11:42)
Thank you, Dr. Cohen. Next I’ll recognize Catherine Truitt, our Superintendent of Public Instruction. Superintendent Truitt.

Catherine Truitt: (11:55)
Thank you to Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen for your clear statement today on the need to send children back to school. The hard truth is that-

Catherine Truitt: (12:03)
… the need to send children back to school. The hard truth is that even with immediate action, we face a challenging pathway ahead. Even before the COVID crisis, a majority of our students were already behind in reading and math proficiency. Imagine what has happened after nearly a year of remote learning. We also know that remote learning in this pandemic have taken a tremendous toll on thousands and thousands of families; disrupting jobs, childcare, healthcare, social networks, and even food security. In short, this crisis has negatively impacted students’ mental health and overall wellbeing as well as their academic preparation.

Catherine Truitt: (12:41)
Data shows us that our most vulnerable students are also those who are disproportionately impacted by the remote at-home learning environment. As we have heard, we have received extensive data to confirm that the health risks of in-person attendance are thankfully much lower than we initially feared. As a former classroom teacher myself, I am well aware of the important role that schools play in all aspects of a child’s life.

Catherine Truitt: (13:09)
And after suddenly being thrust into the role of a substitute teacher at home, I know that thousands of parents have a new found respect for the profession of teaching. Most teachers want nothing more than to return to the classrooms and teach in person, but they, like our students, are being held back by district wide policies over which they have little input. I understand that for many schools, the logistics of returning to in-person instruction five days per week may be a challenge, but this is absolutely a challenge we must face head on.

Catherine Truitt: (13:43)
For some children, this challenge is about fulfilling their potential, but for others, it’s as simple as ensuring that they have a chance in life. We hope that today’s DHHS guidance empowers local school districts to require students and teachers to return to their classrooms while also offering a choice of remote instruction for those teachers and students who are at high risk from COVID-19. Our students cannot lose any more time. Thank you. Thank you, governor.

Governor Roy Cooper: (14:21)
Thank you Superintendent Truitt. At this time I’ll recognize Eric Davis, the Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education. Chairman Davis.

Eric Davis: (14:34)
On behalf of my colleagues on the State Board of Education and along with Superintendent Truitt, I want to extend my thanks to the Governor and Secretary Cohen for your leadership throughout this pandemic. On March 14th, 2020, in partnership with Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen, we made the tough decision to close our schools for in-person instruction due to the many unknowns about COVID-19. Following the science with a learning mindset to gain greater understanding in how to protect our families, and especially our teachers and students, we tasked our districts to create multiple operating plans to address the health and safety concerns in their respective communities.

Eric Davis: (15:17)
Since last March, and despite the heroic efforts of teachers, principals and family members, too many of our students have not received the academic instruction or the social, emotional or mental health supports that they so desperately need. Quite simply, not enough of our students are receiving the benefit of in-person instruction. We know that to equitably and fully address the needs of the whole child in every student, it’s imperative that schools reopen for in-person instruction. Since August, public school leaders have proven the merits of the safety protocols that have kept our schools safe for students and staff, along with the remote instruction option for high risk students and parents seeking such an option.

Eric Davis: (16:14)
The science is clear. It is safe to reopen our schools in accordance with the health protocols. Following the three Ws: washing our hands, wearing our mask, and waiting six feet apart, we know the pathway to effectively reopen schools. We look forward to partnering with our districts and all educators as students start return to school buildings this month. Student overall health, safety and academics are improved when they are with our caring teachers in our schools. Working together, we can fulfill our responsibilities to our students and support them in recovering from the damaging effects of COVID. Thank you, governor.

Governor Roy Cooper: (17:09)
Thanks Chairman Davis. Also, we have Monica McGee and Lee Williamson as our sign language interpreters; and behind the scenes, Jasmine Materia and Erica Coogler are our Spanish language interpreters. All of us are available to take questions and we’ll begin with the first one. If you can identify your organization and yourself place.

Speaker 1: (17:34)
Our first question is from Claire Donnelley with WFAE.

Claire Donnelly: (17:40)
Hi there, it’s Claire Donnelly from WFAE. This question is actually for Secretary Cohen. I’m wondering what plans the state has to reach residents who might not be able to leave their homes for vaccines, either because of a disability or an illness.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (18:00)
Hi Claire. Thanks for that question. Obviously we’re working to get vaccine out to all of the folks in North Carolina who need it as quickly and as equitably as possible. We know that folks have challenges with transportation and leaving their home either because of a frailty due to illness or other reasons. So we’re working with a lot of different mechanisms to get our vaccine out. I know our local health departments are working to serve their underserved communities. Just a couple of weeks ago, we released two and a half million dollars to our local transportation providers to allow for transportation to and from vaccine visits. But anyone who is home bound and is eligible, I would encourage them to get in touch with their local health departments and others to see if there are ways in which we can work out vaccination efforts. I’d encourage everyone to be patient. The most important thing to remember about our vaccines right now is we do not have enough supply to reach everyone right now. So as we have patience, we’re working to get to everyone through multiple mechanisms. Thanks Claire.

Governor Roy Cooper: (19:10)
Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (19:13)
Our next question is from Erik Spanberg with the Charlotte Business Journal.

Erik Spanberg: (19:18)
Governor, this is Erik Spanberg with the Charlotte Business Journal. I want to ask you, I guess everyone’s been through so many holidays and cautionary periods where you’re trying to get people not to gather. Obviously the Super Bowl is this weekend. I’m wondering what you would say not only to people who are thinking about gathering, but also what would you say to restaurant owners and other business owners in terms of proper protocol for this weekend?

Governor Roy Cooper: (19:42)
The same thing we’ve been saying all along that it is not a good idea right now to gather, especially indoors with people that you do not live with. Not only is that important for this pandemic we’re in right now, but also with these COVID-19 variants that we see. That’s not what we want and we hope people won’t do that. You can stay at home this year and watch the Super Bowl. Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (20:13)
Our next question is from Nate Morabito with WCNC.

Nate Morabito: (20:19)
Hey there, governor. I have an unemployment question for you. The state is now administering another round of unemployment benefits, but federal performance data show even with changes last year, North Carolina continues to be among the worst in the country for getting jobless benefits out in a timely manner. People have turned to lawmakers and journalists across the states to move their cases along, and they really are still reaching out all these months later. Your secretary told my oversight committee last week the delays are due in large part to inexperienced first-time filers. But even if that’s true, why does it take a phone call or an email from a journalist or a lawmaker to probably release a person’s unemployment? Why can’t regular people get their money without having to be turned off?

Governor Roy Cooper: (21:04)
Well, that shouldn’t have to happen. Our department of employment security has gotten out millions of dollars to thousands of people. One of the concerns that I have continued to have is that our state ranks near the bottom in unemployment benefits that the state provides, the shortest period of time, and some of the lowest benefits. So one of the things that I’m going to recommend to the general assembly is that we increase our state unemployment for people who are out of work because of this pandemic. I know the department continues to work very hard to get help to people because that’s critically important and they will be ready to administer the new federal money that’s coming in. Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (21:56)
Our next question is from Dawn Vaughan with the News & Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (22:00)
Hi, Dawn Vaughan with the News & Observer. Since this is strongly urging, not a mandate, Governor Cooper, will you sign the in-person learning bill that’s moving through the legislature right now, and why or why not?

Governor Roy Cooper: (22:15)
Well, first, we agree that we need to get our children back to in-person learning in the classroom. The question remains, what’s the best way to do that? A lot of superintendents, school board leaders at the local level have said that if you as the state can provide us encouragement and guidance on doing it, then we’ll take the step forward. The State Board of Education, I and others believe that it’s important to have this local control and I believe that many if not all of the school boards will look very carefully at this and will make the decision going forward to get students back into the classroom. I haven’t seen the legislation. I know about it. I have some concerns with it, particularly stripping out some of the health protocols that are in place, but I don’t think that’s the way to go. I think the way to go is to get our local school boards to take this action, and I believe that many of them, most of them will do so, hopefully all of them will do so because it’s the right thing to do. Next question, please.

Speaker 1: (23:30)
Follow up, Dawn Vaughan, News & Observer.

Dawn Vaughan: (23:33)
Hi, thanks for the follow-up. If you don’t think that’s the way to go, does that mean that you’ll review it and that the schools, you said you hope that all of the schools will reopen. If they don’t, then what’s next? Will there be a mandate for those schools that haven’t decided to?

Governor Roy Cooper: (23:48)
Well, I’ve talked to legislative leaders of both parties today and I’ve encouraged them that let’s give these local boards a chance. They’ve had to make some very tough decisions on the ground, and I think we agree…

Governor Roy Cooper: (24:03)
Tough decisions on the ground and I think we agree that our decisions are best made about education at a local level and with this encouragement, with these new studies out showing the safety protocols with local school boards and superintendents knowing the local areas, we think that this is the right way to go. We’ll continue talking to the legislature. I have concerns with this legislation that’s going through right now and hope today spurs actions by local school boars and I think that that will happen. Next question please.

Speaker 2: (24:41)
Our next question is from Ashley Talley with WRAL.

Ashley Talley: (24:46)
Hi Governor, thank you for taking my call. With this move to bring kids back to the classroom, will teachers move in the vaccination queue?

Governor Roy Cooper: (25:00)
We want to get vaccinations to the entire population as quickly and as equitably as possible. Teachers are in the group of essential workers and they are up next in the priority. I think it’s important to know that the research that has been done says that the schools can be run in safe way if following safety protocols so the team is going to continue to work to get the vaccine out. Obviously we need more from the federal government and they will be part of the essential workers. Next question please.

Speaker 2: (25:40)
Follow-up, Ashley Talley, WRAL.

Ashley Talley: (25:45)
Thank you. To that end, we have also heard that Harris Teeter will be getting the vaccines in North Carolina as soon as the coming week or two. Is that correct? Do you know that and will there be any other commercial entities that will begin distributing or giving out the vaccine in North Carolina?

Governor Roy Cooper: (26:07)
I know that the team is working on expanding the number of providers. Our biggest problem right now is not enough vaccine but we’re hoping that we’ll continue to get more and more and we’ll need more and more providers but I’ll let Dr. Cohen address that question specifically.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (26:28)
Thanks Ashley. Yes, we are bringing on more vaccine providers but doing it in a very targeted way. As the governor said, our biggest issue right now is just not having enough vaccine that we can even get to all of our providers as it is, so we are bringing on additional providers. Some of them are our independent pharmacies, some of them are independent private doctors, offices, and others who can partner with us to administer vaccines quickly and equitably.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (26:54)
As far as Harris Teeter, that does not ring a bill to me and sound familiar. I do know that Walgreens is our partner in the federal pharmacy program that I know will be activated within the next couple of weeks and there may be a partnership between Walgreens and Harris Teeter I’m not aware of but that is the pharmacy partner that will be used through the federal pharmacy program. Thank you.

Governor Roy Cooper: (27:24)
Next question please.

Speaker 2: (27:27)
Our next question is from Brian Anderson with the Associated Press.

Brian Anderson: (27:32)
Hi Governor, Brian Anderson here with the AP. Thanks for the time and the question. I have one for you and one for Dr. Cohen. You just talked about the importance of education decisions being made at the local level but as you remember, back in September you had decided to allow for Plan A for K-5 at the state level, that was a decision you made. Why not extend that out to K-12 today or do an executive order today and my question for Dr. Cohen is are there any federally run vaccination clinics in North Carolina as President Joe Biden has called for?

Governor Roy Cooper: (28:08)
In answer to your first question, what we want to do today is to make sure that children have a chance to get back to the classroom in-person. I’ll let Dr. Cohen talk about the details of that as well as the second part of the question.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (28:28)
Hi Brian. Part of your first question, you are right. We are encouraging those who are in elementary school to return in a Plan A, those in middle and high school in a Plan B, but in the updated guidance that you will see today, you will see there is very minimal difference between A and B. It is really just about in the social distancing piece and that comes strictly from the science that we keep understanding that there is a different pattern of transmissibility between those who are under the age of 10 or up to … In the elementary school age versus those that are in middle and high school. But again, in-person learning is something we think should be a part of everyone going forward, K-12. Though there may be slightly different protocols that we expect for middle and high school to ensure the additional social distancing that we think is needed for our older students but again, in-person instruction is something that the science supports and if we are doing those safety protocols that folks can be back safely and in-person learning. On the question related to do we have any federally supported vaccine clinics at this point the answer is no though we are in conversations with our FEMA regional partners about how they can support events going forward. The issue continues to be vaccine supply. We did get some good news from the federal government this morning. We are going to get a little more supply as we go forward into the next number of weeks. So as we move forward and there is more vaccine supply, we certainly want to be working with our federal partners to have even more access points and federally supported access sites that come with personnel and hopefully also with vaccine. We would definitely support having here in the state. Thank you.

Governor Roy Cooper: (30:18)
Thank you. Next question please.

Speaker 2: (30:22)
Follow-up, Brian Anderson, Associated Press.

Brian Anderson: (30:26)
Then forgive me but just to the first part of the previous question for Governor Cooper, why no executive order here today?

Governor Roy Cooper: (30:33)
Because the school systems that we have talked to want to know what the state believes regarding getting schools back open in-person and we are giving them that guidance today along with the public health guidance and let them make the decisions accordingly but we think it’s important to get our students back into school and think that this is the best way to get it done. Next question please.

Speaker 2: (31:04)
Our next question is from Reuben Jones with Spectrum News.

Reuben Jones: (31:10)
Hi, good afternoon. The North Carolina Association of Educators said yesterday that they’d like to see schools reopen too but they want teachers to be vaccinated first. I’m wondering first school boards as they hear your announcement today and they also want teachers to be vaccinated first. Is there any clarity you can give them in the sense of when they might see vaccines for their educators?

Governor Roy Cooper: (31:33)
First, we want to get vaccines to our essential workers as quickly as possible and they’re next up in the priority list. I will point out that the research shows that children can safely be back in school as long as health protocols are followed and that is what we are recommending today and I’ll let Dr. Cohen talk a little bit more about vaccines and vaccine priority.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (32:06)
Hi Reuben. As you know we started needing to have a prioritization because our vaccine supply is so limited and so right now we are vaccinating all healthcare workers and those over 65 and over. The reason we started with the 65 and over group is because they represent 83% of the deaths in North Carolina, 83% come from those who are 65 and up. So really wanted to protect those that were at the highest risk of death from COVID.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (32:34)
The next group that we will move to is our frontline essential workers. These are folks who have to leave their home to do their job, teachers being one of them, but also police officers, firefighters and others. So that will be the next group, but I want to remind folks and I keep saying this, there is such limited supply right now. We still see very high demand for those who are 65 and up and so it’s going to be still a number of weeks before we’re able to move forward to our frontline essential workers. We’re working with our vaccine partners on the ground right now to help understand what they’re seeing in terms of demand from that population 65 and up and then know how we need to move forward to the next group. Thank you.

Governor Roy Cooper: (33:17)
Thank you. Next question please.

Speaker 2: (33:27)
Follow-up, Reuben Jones, Spectrum News.

Reuben Jones: (33:31)
Thank you, I just wanted to follow up regarding the distribution of vaccines to Walgreens from the federal government. What will the state’s role be in that and I imagine that Walgreens will have to follow the guidance or the rules already in place in terms of who gets vaccines when. Thank you.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (33:48)
Thanks Reuben. So there is a federal pharmacy program which is different than the fact that we, the state, are also allocating vaccines to pharmacies right now. In addition, there is a federal pharmacy program where they can get a direct allocation from the federal government. That is where Walgreens is the partner here. So in the coming week, I don’t know if it’s going to be next week or the end of the week, but they will be getting a very small amount of vaccine at a few of their locations. We’re still working through exactly where that will be with our partners, but we have heard that that will move forward. They are going to be following the state’s prioritization so as I was saying we are vaccinating those who are 65 and up so they will follow our state’s prioritization as they move forward. Thank you.

Governor Roy Cooper: (34:40)
Thank you. Next question please.

Speaker 2: (34:44)
Our next question is from Cole del Charco with WUNC.

Cole del Charco: (34:49)
Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my question. This is Cole del Charco with WUNC. Governor Cooper, I was just wondering, what kind of resources if any are going to be appropriated to make reopening possible for districts? I know especially for example for Wake County schools, they didn’t have enough substitute teachers to continue providing in-person learning in the fall so I’m just wondering if that’s the reason that they are not operating in-person right now. How are they supposed to start operating in-person in the near future?

Governor Roy Cooper: (35:27)
So one of the reasons for leaving the ultimate decisions to local boards is concerning staff and whether there are parents and students who will be willing to go back into the classroom but I think in most every district across the state, there will be enough teachers and enough students to have in-person learning in every district across the state. It’s also important that the school districts have the resources and I know that significant funding has been provided to the Department of Public Instruction, Superintendent Truitt is here.

Governor Roy Cooper: (36:02)
… public instruction. Superintendent Truitt is here. We want to make sure that emergency management provides all the personal protective equipment that the schools need and the cleaning materials they need to make sure that our schools are safe. And again, we’re going to push this really hard because I’m so grateful for our educators and all they do for our students, but it’s really important for school systems that are already operating in person and those that will after this announcement today, that they follow all of the safety protocols and insist that those protocols be followed because that’s what we need to do to make sure that we slow the spread of the disease.

Governor Roy Cooper: (36:41)
But I think that each district should have enough resources in order to do this at some level. And that’s why we’re encouraging this today. Next question, please.

Speaker 3: (36:56)
Follow up [inaudible 00:36:57] WUNC.

Cole del Charco: (37:01)
Thank you for taking my follow up. I’m also wondering for the future. If the outbreaks do at some point get worse again in the state, would this decision today signal kind of a change in priority going forward? Would there be a move by you in a future executive order? For example, if an outbreak gets worse, would you possibly consider moving to reopen schools and keep schools open before businesses and perhaps shutting down businesses before districts move back to remote learning?

Governor Roy Cooper: (37:39)
Thanks for the question we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect the health and safety of North Carolinians. And we’re going to follow the science and the data and listen to the health experts. I will say that a lot has been learned about this virus and a lot of research has gone on in the schools.

Governor Roy Cooper: (37:57)
And I was on the phone this morning with the Biden administration with a number of other governors and Dr. Walensky, the head of the CDC says this. We’ve learned this about the pandemic. That schools should be the last to close and the first to open. When you consider everything else and I think that that is good advice. However, we understand that things can change. Science can change health advice can change, and I’ll be ready to do whatever I need to do to protect the people of the state after taking advice from scientists and health experts. Next question please.

Speaker 3: (38:42)
Our final question today is from Richard Craver with the Winston-Salem Journal.

Richard Craver: (38:48)
Yeah. So governor, this is Richard Craver with the Winston-Salem Journal. Just following up, just to get a little bit more specific on the schools. Do you view it as okay for all grades to go back every day, five days a week, or are you still looking for them to do two days off, two days on and sort of rotate the number of people coming in?

Governor Roy Cooper: (39:11)
We want to get our students back into the classroom and we’re leaving some local flexibility on that, but I’m going to ask Dr. Cohen to talk about the various plans that we’ve recommended to schools.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (39:25)
Thanks, Richard. In all of our in-person instruction safety protocols, there are some baseline that everyone needs to follow. That includes everyone wearing masks all the time. All the students, all the staff, all the teachers. There are other protocols like screening for fever before someone walks in the school building. Wiping down high utilization surfaces and make sure that we’re cleaning and keeping up cleaning protocols.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (39:53)
The only difference between a plan A that is what we are recommending for elementary school and plan B for our middle and high school is really about maintaining social distance when folks are seated. On plan B, you want to be maintaining six feet of social distance at all times when students are in the classroom. Now that does not mean that you can’t go to school every day in person, depending on the school building the number of students that you have.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (40:28)
So there are a lot of permutations here and I’d encourage folks to really look at our guidance, ask questions of our team and our experts to really know how you can operationalize it. Because plan B doesn’t automatically mean less days in the classroom. It does mean that we want to maintain that six feet of social distance for those who are in middle and high school.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (40:49)
I think there are many ways in which folks can go about doing that. And it doesn’t necessarily mean cutting down on days. Certain school districts and school buildings given the way their makeup is and their physical plant. That may be the way they have to implement things, but it’s not an automatic.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (41:06)
So we would encourage folks work with us and ask questions and think about how we can operationalize this to make sure that we can get as many kids in school for as many days as possible while still following those safety protocols. Thank you.

Governor Roy Cooper: (41:28)
There’s follow-up question I understand.

Richard Craver: (41:32)
Yes. The follow-up question is how has this affected extracurricular activities, sports, band, things like that? How will that be either freed up in terms of being able to participate or is there going to be restrictions still on those extra activities?

Governor Roy Cooper: (41:49)
Guidance on that, but I’ll let Dr. Cohen address.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (41:55)
Hi Richard. So we also have guidance on activities for students, and there are certain activities that are higher risk. We already do not recommend any of the indoor contact sports like basketball and others for students. And in fact, the CDC data that they put out last week that says it is safe with protocols to go back for in-person learning, they did say particularly high school athletics continues to be a space where there is higher transmissibility and folks really need to look at that.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (42:28)
So our guidance already says that we do not recommend those indoor contact sports. There are some indoor sports that are not contact where we want folks to be masked all the time. And then obviously for outdoor sports where it is tennis or other things that allow the social distancing, there are other protocols there.

Dr. Mandy Cohen: (42:49)
But I think folks should be looking at things and those different activities. Sports is one that has higher risk of transmission. Obviously when you get together and there’s singing involved, shouting involved, anything that increases that rate of transmission, we want to make sure that we’re examining that closely before allowing further activities to go forward. And I think the most important is getting our kids back into that in-person instruction and following the safety protocols. Thank you.

Governor Roy Cooper: (43:20)
Thanks everybody for being with us today.

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