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

Mecklenburg Health Director Backs In-Person School If Test Positivity Falls To 5%

Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said Wednesday that CMS could have some in-classroom instruction if the test-positvity rate reaches 5%.

Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said Wednesday that students could return to in-person schools part time if the county’s test-positivity rate reaches 5% – assuming schools have enough protective equipment and staff. 

After being above 10% for much of the summer, the percentage of tests coming back positive in Mecklenburg County is now at 7.5%.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield has said he thinks schools can have in-classroom instruction so long as they aren't in coronavirus "hotspots." In an interview in July, he clarified that a hotspot is when the test positivity rate is 5% or above.

Credit Mecklenburg County
The latest coronavirus test-positivity chart for Mecklenburg County.

Harris backs that idea so long as schools are prepared in other ways.

"A lot also depends on teachers' willingness to come back and parents' willingness to bring their children in," she said during a virtual news conference. "Five percent and having good processes in place and sufficient staffing -- I think we could safely bring kids back in for at least part time."

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper gave school districts the option to have either all virtual learning or to have in-classroom instruction with reduced capacity.

CMS initially planned for some in-person instruction at the start of the year so teachers could meet their students. But the board voted to switch to an all-virtual classroom after learning of staffing problems and greater concern about the virus.

The number of new Mecklenburg County coronavirus cases has been decreasing in recent weeks, along with the number of people hospitalized with COVID.

Harris is part of a 13-member Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools medical task force that’s working to create metrics for school reopenings.

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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.