All North Carolina public schools will be closed through May 15, rather than the end of March as originally mandated.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced an executive order on Monday to close schools through May 15 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Schools were originally closed through March 30.

Cooper said he does not want to close schools through the end of the school year yet but will continue to watch for recommendations from public health officials. “I’m not ready to give up on this year of school, however we know the effects of this year’s pandemic will not subside soon,” Cooper said.

The state will set out plans to keep school staff working and being paid, Cooper said. The state is evaluating state testing, distance learning and staff pay.

The executive order also closes gyms, movie theaters, sweepstakes parlors, health clubs and similar businesses. It also closes hair and nail salons and massage therapists, among other businesses, Cooper said.

Those businesses are required to close by Wednesday at 5 p.m. Cooper encouraged those businesses to close sooner if possible.

Grocery stores are still able to be open and restaurants are able to sell takeout and delivery food. “I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but they save lives,” Cooper said.

More than 110,000 people filed for unemployment in the last week, Cooper said.

The order also bans mass gatherings of more than 50 people, down from a previous ban of gatherings of more than 100 people.

Hospitals

At Catawba Valley Medical Center, a State Medical Assistance Team medical tent went up on Monday. It will be used in case of a surge in respiratory illness cases, CVMC Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications Matt Webber said.

The tent is set up outside the emergency department to help sort those who come in with a respiratory illness, Webber said. “It is simply a precautionary and proactive measure at this time,” he said.

In an email to employees on Friday, President of Catawba Valley Health System Eddie Beard said a patient who tested positive for the coronavirus was admitted to the hospital. Beard noted the person was not tested at Catawba Valley Medical Center. The patient was admitted to the hospital for an issue unrelated to coronavirus.

CVMC already has a dedicated area of the hospital to treat respiratory illness patients who come to the emergency room. The hospital is asking patients to call ahead for appointments so those with respiratory symptoms can be treated separately.

The state recommended Monday that anyone with mild symptoms should stay home. Catawba County Public Health said anyone who has a cough, fever and difficulty breathing should contact their health care provider.

Libraries

Libraries in Catawba County are closed, but both the city and county library systems are finding ways for people to still check out library materials.

People can pick up items from Hickory’s Patrick Beaver Memorial Library and Catawba County’s Newton library branch and Sherrills Ford-Terrell library branch between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.

People can request items by calling the library or browsing online to place a hold. Once requested, patrons will have an appointment to pick up their items.

For Patrick Beaver Library, call 828-304-0500. The library also offers materials online at www.hickorync.gov/content/library. People who do not have a library card can go online and set up a temporary account, according to the Facebook post.

For the Newton library, call 828-465-8664 or go online at catawbacountync.gov/library.

For the Sherrills Ford-Terrell branch, call 828-466-6827.

State parks

Over the weekend, North Carolina closed visitor centers, campgrounds, restrooms and picnic shelters at all state parks because of an increase in the number of visitors, according to a press release from North Carolina State Parks. Two weekends ago saw double the number of visitors at state parks as the same weekend last year, the release said.

While trails at most parks are open, the state closed state beaches and some select state parks entirely because of overcrowding over the weekend. Those include Crowders Mountain State Park, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Fort Macon State Park, Hanging Rock State Park, Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Lake Waccamaw State Park and Raven Rock State Park.

With those, Lake James State Park in Burke County announced it would close Monday.

Shopping hours for seniors

Lowes Foods is dedicating 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday as shopping hours for seniors and others who are vulnerable to the virus. Those who are not at heightened risk are being asked to shop at Lowes Foods after 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or on other days of the week. The special shopping hours are in place until further notice, according to a press release from the grocery store.

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