Cooper March 23

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at an N.C. Emergency Management briefing on March 23.

RALEIGH — N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced March 23 that he would sign an executive order later in the day closing K-12 schools for in-person instruction until May 15.

He also said the order will close gyms, movie theaters, health clubs, hair salons, barbers and nail salons effective 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25. In addition, Cooper said the executive order would lower the threshold of allowable mass gatherings to less than 50 people. Previously, mass gatherings of 100 people or more were banned.

"We know these cause hardship and heartache, but they're necessary to save lives," Cooper said.

Grocery stores and restaurants with takeout and delivery options would remain open, Cooper said. Last week, dine-in options at restaurants were banned.

The order also mandated further visitor restrictions for long-term care and nursing home facilities, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' Secretary Mandy Cohen.

Responding to a reporter’s question, Cooper said he is not at this time issuing a “shelter in place” order in which state residents who are considered non-essential personnel are ordered to stay at home under potential penalty.

"We encourage those in the high-risk category to stay at home," Cooper said.

Cohen issued new guidance passed down by the Centers for Disease Control on who is at high risk for contracting COVID-19.

Cohen said the list includes people 65 years and older, people who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, people with high-risk conditions including chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, or heart disease with complications, people who are immunocompromised, people of any age with severe obesity or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes.

“This expanded definition for high risk further emphasizes the need for each of us to commit to social distancing,” Cohen said. “We are working on additional interventions we can do here in North Carolina to protect our higher risk community members.”

“The CDC also advises that women who are pregnant should be monitored since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illness; however, to date data on COVID-19 has not shown increased risk,” Cohen said. “While children are generally at lower risk for severe infection, some studies indicate a higher risk among infants.”

Regarding K-12 education, N.C. State Board of Education Vice Chairman Alan Duncan said that right now, the current benchmark is to resume in-person K-12 instruction May 18.

“We will reopen schools if, and only if, our public health experts say so,” Duncan said.

As for instruction from home, Cooper said he had a conference call with internet service providers to get internet service to students who need it "as soon as possible."

"We must maximize the time left in the year as much as possible," Cooper said.

Cooper said he's working on a plan to make sure school employees are kept safe and will "make sure they get paid."

This story is developing. Visit www.ashepostandtimes.com for more information.

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