Update on NC’s Early Childhood COVID-19 Response

Updated March 24th

Governor Cooper held a press conference at 1 pm on Monday, March 23 to update COVID-19 guidance and share the details of a new Executive Order. The NC Department of Health and Human Services also sent an update email to early childhood stakeholders on Friday, March 20. Details here:

Governor Cooper’s Press Conference

General Guidance and Emergency Management Update

  • The threshold for mass gatherings is now 50, down from 100.
  • Gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs, hair and nail salons, barber shops, massage therapists must all close by 5 pm on Wednesday.
  • Grocery stores and restaurants providing delivery and take out will remain open. Grocery store chain owners have made it clear that supply lines remain open.
  • There is no “shelter in place” order currently.
  • NC submitted a request over the weekend to the federal government for a major disaster declaration, which would allow for more unemployment assistance, case management, individual assistance to families, and public assistance to local governments. They expect a response in the coming days.
  • Call 211 for assistance or questions on COVID-19, including:
    • Food assistance
    • Assistance with paying rent or utilities
    • Support for families with other basic needs
  • Text COVIDNC to 898-211 to start receiving regular updates via text.

K-12 Public School Closure Extended

  • K-12 public schools are now closed for in-person instruction until at least May 15.
  • The state board of education, NC DPI and legislators are working together to create a plan to educate students for the rest of school year, including remote learning.
  • Many schools and teachers are already reaching out to students with online resources for extending learning. 
  • Particularly noted were the inequities in digital access across the state, and education leaders are working on how to address that.
    • Parents can use this interactive resource to find Internet Service Providers near you who are offering free or inexpensive internet access to families with K-12 students who are not currently connected.
  • DPI and the State Board of Education will be working with the General Assembly to obtain the flexibility needed to eliminate testing, adjust calendar, and ensure education staff continue to be compensated.
  • More guidance for school districts regarding employees is forthcoming. In the meantime, school districts should be sensitive to health concerns of employees and encourage remote work whenever possible. 
Young Children and Child Care
  • Although research continues to show that children in general are not severely impacted by the virus, some studies do indicate higher risk among infants. 
  • Families are asked to keep children home from child care if you can, but part of the response needs to be child care for essential workers. 
  • The state is also looking for ways to support the child care industry financially.
Social-Emotional Support
  • Parents are encouraged to create a daily routine for children rather than treating the school closure as a long break, including regular sleep/wake times, a period of learning, and time outside.
  • Behavioral health providers are ready to take new patients for phone/video consultation. Contact your Local Management Entity-Managed Care Organization (LME-MCO) to access providers in your area.
Federal Response
  • See our recent post on the federal response.
  • Once the stimulus bill is passed, Governor Cooper is expecting to work with the NC General Assembly to pass a complimentary package at the state level. There were 110,000 claims for unemployment in the last week, compared to an average of 3,000 usually.

Update from NC Department of Health and Human Services

An email update from NC DHHS on Friday, March 20 shared the following:

Education and Nutrition Working Group
  • On Saturday, March 14th the Governor appointed an Education and Nutrition Working Group to develop a plan to ensure that children and families are supported while schools are closed. The working group is focused on issues such as (but not limited to) nutrition, health, child care access for critical health care and other front-line workers and learning support for children at home. The Working Group is co-chaired by Susan Gale Perry, Chief Deputy Secretary of NC DHHS and David Stegall, Ed.D, Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation at DPI, and includes representatives from DPI, NC DHHS, the State Board of Education, as well as other education, nutrition and child care associations.
Access to Safe, Affordable Child Care
  • DHHS sent a letter to child care providers about the decision to stay open or close down, and guidance for those facilities that do stay open (March 17)
  • DHHS sent out updated health, safety, and operational guidance to child care programs with what they need to do if they are planning to stay open (March 23)
  • DCDEE released guidance  on public health information for child care providers about when someone is sick, screening criteria, exclusion criteria, cleaning, helping the community, limiting exposure, and preparedness.
  • DCDEE released guidance to child care providers on subsidy and pre-K payments, stating that for the month of March, 1) child care centers will receive full subsidy payment for each child enrolled in their facility according to each child’s plan of care, and 2) NC Pre-K programs will be paid in full for March, regardless of child attendance or closure. 
  • DHHS and DPI released joint guidance for the operation of school-based emergency child care during the COVID-19 school closure.  
  • DCDEE released guidance on the need to maintain compliance with all child care rules to the extent possible, while also providing flexibilities to child care providers around staff/child ratios, group size, training requirements, records, activity areas, and nutritional standards. 
  • On March 19th, NC set up a toll-free number for families to call and find out which child care providers are open. We are prioritizing communicating the 1-800 line to healthcare providers and other essential workers.
Access to Nutritious Food 
  • USDA has approved multiple waivers for NC to provide food to children through the Summer Food Programs in non-congregate settings, which enables meal delivery. As of March 19, 2020, all 115 public school districts, 3 federal schools, 33 charter schools, and 35 community partners (e.g., food banks, Feeding America, large faith-based entities) have approved plans to serve meals to children. School districts have flexibility on how to distribute food and have implemented a variety of innovative methods for meal pick-up/delivery (e.g., yellow school bus delivery, grab-and-go meals, drive-by pickup). Most sites began serving meals on Monday, March 16th (averaging 250,000 meals per day).
  • DHHS and DPI are seeking multiple additional waivers and flexibilities to maximize federal programs (e.g., WIC, CACFP, SNAP, and school nutrition programs) to increase access to food for families and children.
  • DHHS and DPI are providing regular guidance and technical assistance to schools and community food sponsors.
  • DPI is continuing to coordinate Nutrition Hubs at schools, connecting schools and community organizations with school meals with food packages for households.
  • DHHS and DPI are soliciting feedback from schools, child care providers, and others to identify possible underserved communities in order to better deploy food assistance.
Early Intervention/Infant-Toddler Program/Children’s Developmental Services Agency Guidance
  • As of March 18, 2020, the North Carolina Infant-Toddler Program (ITP) suspended face-to-face services until March 30, 2020, unless extended beyond that date.  The program will be providing alternate methods to ensure the best support for our families during this difficult time and ensure service continuity.
Access to Remote Learning  
  • NC DPI has published resources for parents to support learning for children birth to grade 2.
  • NC DPI is working with internet service providers who are offering free and affordable options for high-speed internet while schools are closed. NC DPI has launched an interactive map for families to find free and affordable internet service offerings across the state.
  • NC DPI is partnering with The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation to provide instructional support.
State Agency Online Resources