RALEIGH — Elementary school students will now be allowed to return to school for in-person learning per Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest decision to ease restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the governor’s decision, North Carolina school districts will be allowed to choose Plan A for elementary school students. Plan A allows for full in-person classes and instruction for students, teachers and staff. Face covering requirements, social distancing measures and symptom screenings are mandatory under Plan A.

Cooper acknowledged that Plan A may not be the right option for certain school districts. Districts will still retain the option to teach under a hybrid approach or to teach solely online through Plan C.

“Plan A may not be right at this time for many school districts and for every family. Opportunities for remote learning need to be available for families who choose it, and districts will have the flexibility to select a plan based on their unique situation,” Cooper said.

Instruction for students in middle school and high school will remain under Plan C or B until further notice. The governor said that the state is able to loosen the educational restrictions due to citizens stabilizing the number of COVID-19 cases and that education has been the most challenging matter to address during the pandemic.

“The more people who wear masks and act responsibly, the more kids we can put back in school,” Cooper said.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Director Mandy Cohen said the decision to expand in-person learning options for K-5 students was related to research that shows that children younger than 10 are less likely to be infected, development illness and spread the virus to others.

“When I say that younger children transmit the virus less often, it doesn’t mean that it’s not ever,” Cohen said. “Less likely does not mean we eliminate risk. That is why no matter what plan a district chooses to move forward with, there are strong safety protocols.”

Earlier in the press conference, Cohen reported that since school started, the state has seen 10 school clusters across the state involving a total of 16 students and 46 staff members. Case numbers for school-age children have declined within the past weeks, and there does not appear to be community spread of the virus in districts that are operating in a hybrid in-person model versus an all-remote-learning model.

According to Cohen, COVID-19 indicators continue to remain stable. Visits to the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms continues to decline. Overall, the number of new cases is declining, but the state is still seeing a high number of daily reported cases. The number of positive tests in comparison to the total number of tests is declining, and the number of hospitalizations is declining.

The number of confirmed cases reached its peak around the Fourth of July holiday, trended downward and then increased once again once public school and universities reopened. However, the overall number of positive cases is trending downward. The state continues to expand access to testing, provide free testing, provide a better turnaround time for results, hire more contact tracers and provide personal protective equipment.

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