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Social distance, lots of cleaning, required for return to school; decision to be based on July 1 metrics

Posted June 5, 2020 10:54 a.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2020 12:07 a.m. EDT

As the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services put out guidance and safety processes that would allow students to return to the classroom Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper warned that coronavirus metrics must be moving in the right direction to put those plans in place.

With cases and hospitalizations on the rise, the public needs to participate in measures to control the spread. "We will need to come together and each do our part to change the trends of these numbers if we want to get our kids back to school," Cooper said Monday.

NCDHHS released a 26-page "toolkit" for K-12 schools Monday that outlines both requirements and recommendations, including a three-stage plan for social distancing dependent on state metrics.

Schools will open with minimal social distancing so long as metrics – like the daily average of new casts, overall hospitalizations and percentage of positive tests – get better or remain stable through July 1.

Requirements for NC K-12 schools

Social distance

  • Provide social distancing floor/seating markings in waiting and reception areas
  • Mark 6 feet of spacing to remind students and staff to always stay 6 feet apart in lines and at other times when they may congregate
  • Provide marks on the floors of restrooms and locker rooms to indicate proper social distancing
  • Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups or organizations
  • Have staff monitor arrival and dismissal to discourage congregating and ensure students to go straight from a vehicle to their classrooms and vice-versa
  • Discontinue the use of any self-service food or beverage distribution in the cafeteria (e.g. meals and/or snacks served at school should be individually packaged and served directly to students; milk or juice may be available separately and should also be served directly to students)

Face coverings

  • Share guidance and information with staff, students, and families on the proper use, wearing, removal, and cleaning of cloth face coverings

Cleaning and hygiene

  • Provide adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors (e g , soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for safe use by staff and older children, paper towels, and tissues)
  • Teach and reinforce hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and/or the safe use of hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol by staff and older children
  • Increase monitoring to ensure adherence among students and staff
  • Supervise use of hand sanitizer by students
  • Ensure that children with skin reactions and contraindications to hand sanitizer use soap and water
  • Reinforce hand washing during key times such as: Before, during, and after preparing food; Before eating food; After using the toilet; After blowing your nose, coughing,or sneezing; After touching objects with bare hands which have been handled by other individuals
  • Provide hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) at every building entrance and exit, in the cafeteria, and in every classroom, for safe use by staff and older students
  • Systematically and frequently check and refill hand sanitizers
  • Encourage staff and students to cough and sneeze into their elbows, or to cover with a tissue
  • Used tissues should be thrown in the trash and hands washed immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Incorporate frequent hand washing and sanitation breaks into classroom activity
  • Allow time between activities for proper cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces
  • Establish a schedule for and perform ongoing and routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas with an EPA-approved disinfectant, and increase frequency of disinfection during high-density times and disinfect all shared objects between uses
  • Ensure safe and correct use and storage of cleaning and disinfection products, including securely storing and using products away from children, and allowing for adequate ventilation when staff use such products
  • Limit sharing of personal items and supplies such as writing utensils
  • Keep students’ personal items separate and in individually labeled cubbies, containers or lockers
  • Limit use of classroom materials to small groups and disinfect between uses or provide adequate supplies to assign for individual student use
  • Ensure that all non-disposable food service items are minimally handled and washed with hot water and soap or in a dishwasher, or use disposable food service items such as plates and utensils

Screening for symptoms

  • Enforce that staff and students stay home if:
    • They have tested positive for or are showing COVID-19 symptoms, until they meet criteria for return
    • They have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19, until they meet criteria for return
  • Conduct symptom screening of any person entering the building
  • Conduct daily temperature screenings for all people entering the school facility or boarding school transportation

The plan also lists requirements for protecting high-risk students and staff, for dealing with suspected cases of coronavirus and for supporting student and staff mental health.

Schools are required to have to have other plans in place – for more social distance and for a return to remote learning – should metrics get worse.

“If our state metrics are positive, local school districts will be able to take steps to safely return students to the classroom while also ensuring schools can accommodate students and teachers who may have health concerns. If, however, our great state takes a turn for the worst all schools will follow more stringent guidance," said NC superintendant Mark Johnson.

Some parents want kids back in school while others want to wait for it to be safe. But for many, school is a safe haven and a place where they receive structure.

“There are a lot of children out there who rely on the schools for nutrition and guidance, and it’s very important, but we do want all the children to attend when it’s safe," said parent Meredith Terrell.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms across North Carolina has reached a new high. On Monday, the state reported 739 people in the hospital, the highest one-day total since the coronavirus pandemic began. Only 77% of hospitals statewide provided data.

There have been 36,647 cases of the virus in the state since early March, with an estimated 23,653 people having recovered from the virus.

To date, 1,069 people have died of COVID-19 in North Carolina.

New cases of the novel coronavirus are rising faster than ever worldwide, at a rate of more than 100,000 a day over a seven-day average.

In April, new cases never topped 100,000 in one day, but since May 21, there have only been less than 100,000 on five days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Newly reported cases reached a high of 130,400 on June 3.

NC coronavirus cases, deaths by zip code

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The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services began releasing zip code-level data on cases and deaths on May 1. Search by zip code to find the rates of cases and deaths for your area. Aggregate counts are based on where patients live. DHHS has supressed counts for some zip codes with populations of less than 500 and cases less than five due to privacy concerns. Population estimates for each zip code, included in the state's data, were calculated by Esri Inc. through a state contract. Due to differences in zip code geographies used in a new version of the state's dashboard launched May 20, some case and deaths counts here may differ slightly from that new dashboard. To stay consistent, WRAL is using state data originally published May 1 and updated by DHHS daily through its ArcGIS site.

Source: N.C. DHHS // Updated: July 14
Graphic: Tyler Dukes, WRAL // Get the data

The increase in case rates may be partially explained by increases in testing capacity, but there's still not enough testing to capture an accurate picture in many countries.

Different nations' epidemics have followed different trajectories. The number of new cases has slowed in many of the countries that were hit hard earlier on in the pandemic, including China, the US, UK, Italy, Spain and France.

But many countries, particularly in South America, the Middle East and Africa, the rate of transmission still appears to be accelerating, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

In Libya, Iraq, Uganda, Mozambique and Haiti, the data shows the number of known cases is doubling every week. In Brazil, India, Chile, Colombia and South Africa, cases are doubling every two weeks.

"The Americas continues to account for the most cases. For several weeks, the number of cases reported each day in the Americas has been more than the rest of the world put together," said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday.

"We are especially worried about Central and South America, where many countries are witnessing accelerating epidemics."

Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO executive director of Health Emergencies Program, said he did not think Central and South America had reached their peak in transmission.

The share of global deaths is also still rising in South America and the Caribbean.

Brazil recorded more than 30,000 new cases on Thursday, bringing it to almost 615,000 in total, along with 1,473 new deaths, taking its total fatalities to more than 34,000.

Its case numbers are second only to the US, where just under 1.9 million cases have been reported and 108,211 deaths. At its peak, the US was seeing an increase of more than 30,000 new cases a day; as of Friday it was registering about 21,000 news cases and 942 daily death per day over a seven-day average.

A number of countries that passed their initial peak -- such as South Korea, Germany and China -- have since seen new clusters of infections after restrictions on movement were eased, raising fears of a second wave.

Authorities in 214 countries and territories have reported about 6.6 million Covid-19 cases and 391,000 deaths since China reported its first cases to the WHO in December.

The true toll of the virus is likely to be worse than the numbers show, as mild or asymptomatic infections often go undiagnosed.

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