Elementary schools will have the option to return to the classroom at full capacity beginning Monday, Oct. 5, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at a Sept. 17 press conference. According to the state’s Plan A guidelines, classrooms will have no restrictions on the number of K-5 students allowed, but safety measures including mandatory face coverings, COVID-19 symptom screening and social distancing will still be required.
Middle and high schools will continue to follow either Plan B, a hybrid of online and in-person learning with schools at 50% capacity, or Plan C, a fully virtual model. School districts can choose any of the three plans for grades K-5, Cooper explained, as long as a virtual option exists for students and families who opt in.
“Of all the disruptions that COVID-19 has created, education has been the most difficult to address,” Cooper said. “Our No. 1 priority has always been to get kids back in school.”
The decision comes as North Carolina’s key COVID-19 metrics — lab-confirmed cases, COVID-like syndromic cases, rate of positive tests and hospitalizations — are all decreasing, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services.
Schools have reported 10 reported COVID-19 clusters since the start of the academic year, Cohen said, together impacting 16 children and 46 staff members. (A cluster is defined as five or more cases.) She pointed to emerging research that suggests younger children transmit the coronavirus at lower rates than do teenagers and adults and are less likely to experience severe symptoms.
Local school districts have already begun bringing students back to the classroom. Buncombe County Schools announced Sept. 10 that the district will move to Plan B on Monday, Sept. 28; at a Sept. 16 special meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Education decided high school students would remain under Plan C for the rest of the semester but kept the hybrid online/in-person plan for K-8 students.
Henderson County Schools will move to Plan B on Monday, Sept. 21. K-2 students will attend in-person classes daily; students in grades 3- 12 will alternate between in-person and virtual learning on a hybrid schedule. Asheville City Schools will remain in Plan C through at least Friday, Oct. 23.
Buncombe to stop community COVID-19 briefings
At first, they happened every day, then twice a week, then weekly. Now, after six months of regular updates, Buncombe County plans to hold its final community briefing about COVID-19 at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Stacie Saunders, Buncombe’s public health director, said the county’s coronavirus metrics had shown sustained declines over the past several weeks. Testing positivity rates are stable around 3%, well below the statewide average of 5.6%; the county is adding an average of 16 new coronavirus cases each day, down from a peak of over 40 new cases per day in late July.
Saunders noted that Buncombe health officials will continue to provide COVID-19 updates during Board of Commissioners briefings, which take place at 3 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Members of the media will still be able to submit questions to the county’s emergency operations center, and the Let’s Talk series of virtual town halls on specific coronavirus-related topics will continue on the county Facebook page.
In other news
- Haywood County Health and Human Services has identified a cluster of 13 COVID-19 cases linked to Enchanting Hair Fashions in Canton. Three salon employees, five customers and five close contacts of the employees or customers have tested positive, and three of those individuals have been hospitalized.
- Funeral services for Henderson County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Hendrix are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, at Mud Creek Baptist Church. Only law enforcement officers, first responders and family members are allowed at the funeral; members of the public can attend a visitation from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Mud Creek Church and a graveside service at Forest Lawn Cemetery. The funeral will be livestreamed on the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
- The N.C. Department of Transportation launched its 2020 Watch for Me NC awareness campaign to help reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. Safety tips will be shared via rideshare vehicles, flyers inserted into food delivery bags and radio advertisements.
With additional reporting by Daniel Walton.