Noting stabilizing coronavirus case numbers, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called on the state's schools to reopen.
North Carolina's public schools shut down in March, and many children have been in remote learning for almost a year.
"School is important for reasons beyond academic instruction. School is where students learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voices. Teachers play an important role in keeping students safe by identifying cases of abuse, hunger, homelessness and other challenges," Cooper said Tuesday.
At least 90 of North Carolina's 115 school districts have at least some kind of in-person instruction for students, the governor said.
"What’s new is that research done right here in North Carolina tells us in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely with the right safety protocols," Cooper told reporters during a news conference Tuesday.
“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,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. “Our Department will continue to serve our school communities, offering resources and support so we can keep our school doors open.”
“Learning loss resulting from COVID has the potential to be a generational hurdle, but the data we have seen shows us that schools can reopen safely if they adhere to COVID prevention policies,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, who joined Cooper and Cohen for their regular weekly news conference Tuesday.
“For many schools, the logistics of returning to in-person instruction five days per week will be a challenge, but this is absolutely a challenge we must face head on so that all students have a chance to fulfill their potential. With strong prevention measures in place, and the scientific research to back them, now is the time to act. North Carolina’s students cannot lose any more time,” she said.
There's an effort in the North Carolina General Assembly to reopen the state's public schools. Cooper said he had issues with that legislation, prefering to let local school boards make the decisions about how best to open in their communities.
Despite the call to reopen schools, teachers and staff are not eligible to get vaccinated yet. Teachers are part of Group 2 to receive the vaccine in North Carolina, included with other frontline essential workers.
Cohen said it will be “a number of weeks before we’re able to move forward to our frontline essential workers."
Responding to the governor Tuesday, North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly, said, "without the widespread vaccination of educators and strictly enforced social distancing, it is impossible for many schools to open safely, and for the schools that have been open, they need help."
"If Governor Cooper feels so strongly about resuming in-person instruction quickly, then he should support educators and immediately bring the full weight of his office to bear to get all educators vaccinated by the end of this month, just as 25 other states have been able to do," Kelly said in a statement.
Cooper said students should still have an option for remote learning, and teachers at increased risk from the virus should be able to teach those remote classes.
The number of new cases has continued to drop. The state reported 2,926 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, according to DHHS.
Hospitalizations are also down, with 2,741 people in the hospital being treated for COVID-19, according to the department. That number of people in the hospital has dropped eight days in a row, according to the governor.
Both the hospitalization and new case numbers are at their lowest points since the holiday season.
As of Tuesday, 9,409 people have died from the virus in North Carolina.
There's also improvement on the vaccine numbers. State data shows North Carolina's hospitals and public health departments have distributed more than 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. More than 170,000 people in the state have received both shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
COVID-19 IN NORTH CAROLINA