No evidence opening K-12 public schools is a factor in NC's increase in virus cases, state health officials say

State health officials said on Thursday there was no evidence that opening elementary schools contributed to the recent rise in coronavirus cases across the state.

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Maggie Brown
, WRAL Multiplatform producer; Adam Owens, WRAL anchor/reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — State health officials said on Thursday there was no evidence that opening Kindergarten through 12th grade public schools has contributed to the recent rise in coronavirus cases across the state.

Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer, said in a NC Department of Public Instruction meeting that although cases are rising, "we are not seeing schools as a big driver of cases."

"In-school learning is the best for our children, but we need to be flexible," she said. While it does not seem opening schools has caused a huge increase in the state's cases, there still have been cases and clusters at schools in the state, Tilson acknowledged.

The majority of young people who have tested positive since the coronavirus pandemic began are between the ages 18 of 24.

"Kids have relatively low rates of infection and are not driving our increases," Tilson said.

Health officials are finding that the majority of children who do contract coronavirus have mild or no symptoms of coronavirus. They also are less likely to spread the coronavirus.

As of Thursday, there were no deaths linked to K-12 coronavirus clusters. More than 297 people are currently sick with the coronavirus linked to K-12 schools -- which makes up less than 1% of all education-related coronavirus cases.

The majority of students who have tested positive are college students, Tilson said.

"College students are driving infection rates," she said.

Tilson also said on Thursday that there could be a coronavirus vaccine next spring for teachers and students.

Why are cases rising across the state?

In July, when colleges opened, there was a spike in coronavirus cases across the state. North Carolina is seeing a second increase in coronavirus cases now.

Tilson said that the state is not "in a vertical acceleration" but cases are still slowing ticking upward.

"We aren’t hair on fire, but we are pretty vulnerable," she said. It's important to keep the number of cases down so that the healthcare system does not get overwhelmed, Tilson said.

In the summer, the state saw a positivity rate of 10%. Then in September, that rate dropped to 5%. Now the positivity rate is back up to more than 7%.

"We are definitely seeing spread in small social gatherings," Tilson said.

Contact tracing has shown that coronavirus is spreading at small weddings, backyard barbeques and church gatherings.

"As we go forwarding in thinking through the holiday season, that is one reason we are trying to be so proactive about the smaller social gatherings," she said.

A new study that was released found that up to 75% of people who contract coronavirus don't have symptoms, Tilson showed.

Gatherings even below the mass gathering limit can be spreaders of coronavirus. Tilson said when people are around a group they are comfortable with, and it's a small group of people or it's their family, they might not wear a mask or practice social distancing.


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