RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Saturday ordered all public schools in the state to close for at least two weeks, joining other states around the country switching to online learning as the coronavirus spreads.
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“We know that it will be difficult on many parents and students,” Cooper said during a news conference. “Our lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. But we’re going to get through this.”
The closing of all K-12 public schools will begin Monday and continue for at least two weeks.
Cooper said he is also issuing an executive order banning all gatherings of more than 100 people. Cooper had already strongly discouraged large gatherings, but said several venues continued their events. The governor’s order makes it mandatory.
Several school districts had already announced closures, including Wake County, which has the state’s largest school system.
State emergency officials were not recommending statewide school closures as recently as Friday. But Cooper said a handful of school systems had started reworking schedules to keep students at home for the rest of the month, while other parents were deciding their children wouldn’t go to school.
“We are seeing increased anxiety (and) fear from parents, from teachers, from superintendents across our state,” Cooper said. “We need a period of time here to assess the threat of COVID-19 and to make sure we have a coordinated statewide response to deal with the fallout that comes when you don’t have children in school.”
Cooper said a special state education and health committee was being formed to address child care, student meals and other challenges with the statewide closings.
North Carolina joins more than half a dozen other states in ordering statewide school closings — including Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Illinois and Washington state — as officials try to slow the spread of coronavirus. Colleges and universities around the country have also suspended on-campus instruction, extended spring break, or both.
North Carolina health officials say 23 people in the state have tested positive for coronavirus. No deaths have been reported. State health officials said none of the cases have been linked to community transmission.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The outbreak has caused more than 5,600 deaths out of 149,000 cases worldwide.
All 17 University of North Carolina system schools and many private colleges have told students to stay off campus for a while and prepare to learn without face-to-face classes later this month.