Dr. Fauci told N.C. leaders to wait before reopening schools with fully in-person learning

Back to school conversation with Dr. Mandy Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina’s health secretary says Dr. Anthony Fauci played a big role in them waiting before reopening public schools with fully in-person instruction.

WRAL in Raleigh reported that Governor Roy Cooper’s administration was leaning toward reopening schools with full in-person learning in June, but delayed the decision after a call with Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

WBTV interviewed NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen Monday, Aug. 17, as schools all over the state reopened.

Cohen said as leaders were working to make the decision on school reopening, they were trying to weigh the benefits and the risks, and she mentioned the many benefits of in-person instruction.

“I mean, every parent, every teacher will tell you about not just the learning aspects of in-person school, but the socialization, the social emotional growth, but also kids get their nutrition at school,” Cohen said.

The health secretary says officials were always leaning to find the way to get North Carolina’s children back in school. Some of that included looking at the state’s coronavirus numbers.

Unfortunately, at the end of June and beginning of July, North Carolina’s coronavirus numbers were still going up.

So, North Carolina’s health leaders had a conversation with Dr. Fauci.

Dr. Cohen said Fauci told them “You know what? You do not need to make this decision today. Why don’t you wait and watch your trends? Like another couple of weeks.”

Dr. Cohen thinks Fauci was right.

North Carolina health leaders continued to see coronavirus numbers go up during those two weeks.

But Dr. Cohen says officials also saw more studies that said safety protocols are necessary and work. That’s how officials landed on Plan B of maximum safety protocols, but would try to get back to in-person, if they can.

In July, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina schools would reopen in August under “Plan B,” allowing both in-person and remote learning.

The “Plan B” approach lets students participate in a mix of in-classroom and remote learning. This plan involves some students potentially rotating schedules, with some students not coming onto campus at all.

One-on-One with NCDHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen

Schools were also allowed the option of completely virtual learning, as laid out in N.C.‘s “Plan C.”

Some school districts decided to go fully-remote, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. CMS has said they would go back in the classroom when it’s safe.

Dr. Cohen says she believes the state’s trends are already in a place where in-person instruction is possible, as long as they put in place the correct safety and health protocols. Cohen says she thinks the bigger issue the time and space it takes to get those protocols in place.

She’s heard from school districts is that they want to get back to in-person learning, but they just need the time to train teachers and other personnel on those processes to get to that point.

Dr. Cohen says she’s hoping to see districts use these first few weeks to work the process to get back to in-person instruction.

As far as an estimated time for a return to the classroom, Dr. Cohen said that falls on a ditrict-by-district basis.

Dr. Cohen did say, however, that officials have seen the highest rates of viral spread have been in the Mecklenburg County area, but they certainly slowed down and officials are seeing less hospitalizations.

She thinks it’s right for CMS officials to see how the university openings go in the Charlotte area and see how a couple more weeks go. During that time, the health secretary says officials should work on the protocols and then reevaluate,

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