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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Gov. Cooper's Closure Of Schools And Businesses Explained

UNC-TV screenshot

Life amid the coronavirus in North Carolina is about to get more restrictive. First, Governor Cooper announced today that the closing of all schools is extended to May 15. And additional businesses. 

"This order closes gyms, movie theaters, sweepstake parlors, health clubs and other similar facilities. We want you to close as soon as possible and the order takes effect this Wednesday. Because of their inability to conduct social distancing, this order also closes hair and nail salons, barbershops and massage and massage therapists as of 5 p.m. Wednesday."

There are a lot of questions about this order – some we can answer and some that still need an answer. Joining WFAE's "All Things Considered" host Gwendolyn Glenn are WFAE education reporter Ann Doss Helms and health reporter Claire Donnelly.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Ann, we will start with you. No school until May 15. How is the state going to pull this off? Is there a plan?

Ann Doss Helms: There's more of a plan to make a plan. Superintendent Mark Johnson said he's already created teams to address the most essential questions about what comes next. He said those teams will accelerate their work now that it's clear a long-term closing is needed, but there were very few answers today

Here’s NC Board of Education Vice Chair Alan Duncan on uncertainty remaining: 

"There will be hundreds of decisions to make – and that probably underestimates it – as we redefine school this year and beyond."

Glenn: So far the distance learning has been described as supplemental, with no grades and no progress toward earning credit. Will that change?

Helms:  That’s not at all clear. That’s among many decisions that officials say are still to come, with the help of state lawmakers. They say they want to make sure seniors can graduate as scheduled – though of course it’s not clear they’ll be allowed to have an in-person ceremony. Everybody has been busy trying to get the technology and paper lessons into the hands of teachers and families. Now it’s time to figure out – fast – how to use them.

Glenn: Are all school districts ready?

Helms: Probably not. This is a huge system, with 1.5 million students in district and charter schools. Alan Duncan, the vice chair of the state board of education, talked about inequalities between districts. But realistically, there will be inequalities between schools, between families and between teachers.

Glenn: Ann, we will return to you in a moment. Claire Donnelly, the governor’s order extends beyond school closures. Many businesses must close Wednesday, such as gyms and hair and nail salons. Claire, did this order come as a surprise?

Donnelly: Right, so state officials say the goal is to keep people from having close contact. That’s the social distancing we’ve been hearing so much about--staying 6 feet away from other people to avoid spreading COVID-19. North Carolina’s definitely not alone in taking these steps. At least four other states--New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania--temporarily closed barbershops and nail and hair salons starting this past weekend. Los Angeles and New York City have reportedly closed movie theaters. And two big theater companies, AMC and Regal Cinemas, last week closed all of their U.S. locations for up to 12 weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times. Cooper said at today’s press conference he knows it’s going to be hard.

"I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people. But they’re necessary to save lives."

Donnelly: I should also add: A lot of businesses in Charlotte decided to close even before the order, just as a precaution...and some places saw slower business this weekend even though they were technically allowed to remain open. 

Glenn: Ann, a couple more education questions: What happens when students return May 18?

Helms: First, it’s not certain that they will. If they’re actually able to go back on May 18, most schools will have only three weeks left – unless they extend the calendar. Some districts, including Iredell-Statesville and Lincoln counties, started earlier in August, so they’ll only have a few days left after May 18.

Glenn: And what about state testing?

Helms: The state is seeking a waiver from the required year-end exams and is almost sure to get it. Advanced Placement exams are being offered in a modified online version students take from home. International Baccalaureate exams have been canceled. Juniors are required to take the ACT, and a makeup session for late March has been canceled.

Glenn: Well, thanks both of you for those updates.

Helms: Thank you.

Donnelly: Thank you.