7/14/20: GOVERNOR EXTENDS PHASE TWO UNTIL AUG. 7, ANNOUNCES REOPENING SCHOOLS IN AUGUST UNDER ‘PLAN B,’ WHICH BALANCES IN-PERSON AND REMOTE LEARNING WITH SAFETY PRECAUTIONS. (Plus an Update on Dare County.)

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North Carolina “will continue to stay paused in safer-at-home Phase Two for another three weeks,” Governor Roy Cooper announced today in a media briefing in which he also advised that public schools will reopen in August under a plan that balances in-person and remote learning for children K-12.

“Our numbers are still troubling,” the Governor said about COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide, in explaining why Phase Two will not expire Friday. Businesses that are currently shuttered will remain so until at least Aug. 7.

“We want to be done with the pandemic,” the Governor observed, “but it’s not done with us.”

Originally North Carolina’s Chief Executive was going to announce the school reopening plan on July 1—a deadline that he personally set and pledged to meet.

But that day the Governor chose instead to outline three reopening plans, known as Plans A, B, and C, which vary in personal restrictiveness, and then delayed choosing one, saying that he first needed a “buy-in across the board” from school districts.

Teachers and administrators were expressing concerns about their own health and safety, he said in explaining the delay.

Plan B, which the Governor chose, would “open our schools to balance both in-person and remote learning,” he said today, “with key safety precautions,” including limiting the number of people in a school building (“reduced density,” no more than 50 percent capacity); having fewer children in a classroom; and strictly observing social distancing.

Plan B also requires students to be screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms and everyone in the school to wear a face covering at all times and to wash their hands frequently.

Every student, teacher, and school staff member will be issued five free reusable face coverings, according to the Governor, “one for every day of the week.”

This marks the first time that the Governor has ordered children under the age of 11 to wear face coverings.

Although the State is encouraging Plan B and disallowing Plan A, which would have allowed all students back in the classroom with only “minimal distancing,” the Governor said that parents and school district may choose Plan C, which is all-remote learning.

A parent may even choose Plan C for his/her child in a district that supports Plan B.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, called the Plan B-with-a-Plan-C-option a “balanced and flexible approach” to reopening schools that ensures “key safety precautions are in place.”

In her own pithy observation about the state’s COVID-19 metrics, she said, “We continue to simmer, but we’ve avoided boiling over,” as many other states have, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona.

She also said about the public schools, which are considered a “lower transmission setting,” because children are less likely to get infected by the coronavirus and, when infected, to spread it, that “We can mitigate, but not eliminate the health risks of reopening.”

According to the Governor, Plan B sets the ‘baseline for health and safety” in the school environment.

Both the Governor and Secretary Cohen again stressed the importance of people observing infection-control measures, especially the wearing of a face mask or covering.

“If everyone would wear a mask for the next six weeks,” the Governor said in quoting CDC Director Robert Redfield, “we would drive this virus into the ground.”

UPDATE ON COVID-19 IN DARE COUNTY

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Dare County reached 215 yesterday, with 124 being residents and 91 being nonresidents, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard.

On Saturday, the dashboard expanded the age category of “17” to “17 and under.” Of the 215 cases, 31 are ages 17 and under; 70 are ages 18 to 24; 60 are ages 25 to 49; 34 are ages 50 to 64; and 20 are age 65 or older.

The number of COVID-19-positive higher-risk people ages 65+ has doubled in the past week. Between July 6 and July 13, 69 new cases were reported in Dare County..

Today, Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the DCDHHS, described some of the transmission details of the 35 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since her Friday report.

Twenty-three of these 35 acquired the virus by direct contact, she said, and the other 12 presumably acquired it by community spread.

Coincidentally, 23 of the new cases are symptomatic, and 12 are not.

“We are seeing friends spreading the virus to friends, and then it spreading further to family members and close co-workers,” she said.

All of the new cases are isolating at home. No one was hospitalized.

Dr. Davies also reported on the results of last week’s antibody and diagnostic testing event in Buxton.

Of the 222 diagnostic tests conducted, seven were positive for COVID-19. Only two of the 127 antibody tests conducted were positive.

Results from today’s diagnostic and antibody testing event in Kill Devil Hills will be available starting July 24, Dr. Davies announced.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 7/14/20

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