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

What Metrics Will Bring CMS Students Back?


The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted Wednesday to have virtual school indefinitely after two weeks of in-person classes. What comes next?

Board chair Elyse Dashew told WFAE’s Lisa Worf on Thursday morning that “we need to work with our county health partners to determine a metric to figure that out.”

She added: “I know that New York schools have established the metrics so that when the coronavirus gets to certain levels, they can move into more in-person instruction. And here in North Carolina, we haven't defined something like that yet, but we need to.”

Board member Sean Strain was the lone “no” vote, with Rhonda Cheek abstaining. When asked about metrics on Thursday, Strain said Dashew needs to answer that question.

“Kids are being kept from their best educational environment because 10% of the teachers are afraid to work in the schools,” Strain wrote by text. “The district leadership was prepared to lead, the experts said it was necessary, but seven members of the board voted based on the fear of 10% of the staff.”

So, what metrics will be used?

The New York state metrics Dashew mentioned will be extremely difficult for North Carolina and Charlotte to meet without a second, extended lockdown.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says “schools in Regions in Phase IV can reopen if daily infection rate remains below 5% using a 14-day average ..." and that “schools will close if regional infection rate rises over 9% after Aug. 1.”

N.C. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said earlier this week that schools could open for in-person learning with limited capacity.

Here is how Mecklenburg compares with the state on some key metrics:

  • North Carolina’s test-positivity rate – the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive --  over the course of the pandemic is 7%, though in the past month it has consistently been between 8-10% daily. It’s higher in Mecklenburg, at 11.5%. Union County, which will have some in-person instruction, is at 10%. Gaston County, which hasn’t decided yet on in-person schooling, is at 13%. Wake County – which will return to the classroom – is at 9%.

  • Mecklenburg County has 16,415 confirmed cases of COVID. The state has nearly 98,000 cases. That’s a higher share of cases (17%) than the county’s share of the population (10.6%).

  • Hospitalizations: Mecklenburg hospitals have a greater share of COVID patients than the county’s population share, but Atrium and Novant care for patients who live outside Mecklenburg. Atrium and Novant had 175 COVID patients as of July 12. The two hospitals are still performing elective surgeries and have enough capacity.

  • Deaths: There have been 177 COVID deaths in Mecklenburg County, compared with 1,629 in the state. That’s in line with the county’s share of the population (11% of total deaths in the state).

Will CMS make a goal of being in line with the state on COVID metrics? Will test-positivity be the deciding factor? Or will it let an employee survey guide its path forward?

Setting metrics criteria might make it difficult for Mecklenburg to actually reach it. And if the county hasn’t met the new criteria by January, do schools remain closed? 

This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly politics email newsletter, Inside Politics With Steve Harrison. Subscribe here.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.