RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said he is signing an executive order that will close in-person classes for public K-12 schools through May 15.

The governor acknowledged that the school closures have been “extremely difficult” for parents and children alike.

“This is what we need to do to slow the spread of the virus,” Cooper said.

The governor said he has asked education leaders to develop a plan to maximize the remaining time of the school year.

The plan will include a way for school employees to work safely and get paid, Cooper said.

“I know that these actions cause hardship and heartache for a lot of people, but they’re necessary to save lives,” Cooper said.

This is the third executive order signed by Cooper during the pandemic.

The third order bans mass gatherings of more than 50 people – a change from the previous order that set the threshold at 100 people.

It also closes gyms and health clubs as well as salons and barber shops as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Sweepstakes parlors are also ordered to close.

The governor encouraged businesses affected by the third executive order to close even before 5 p.m. Wednesday if possible.

Michael Phillips, who owns Men at Work Car Care Center and Men At Work Barber Shop in Raleigh, said the uncertainty he’s feeling is unlike anything he’s experienced.

Wake County ordered barbershops to close on Monday through April 30.

Phillips primarily employs people who might otherwise struggle to find work, such as people with criminal records.

“We already paid for this month, so we’ll see what next month brings. How long? The unknown is always the toughest part of any situation you find yourself in. So, now what you do? I don’t know,” Phillips said. “Hope and pray that it doesn’t last forever, that we’re able to keep everybody with us.”

CBS 17 learned Monday that between March 16 and March 23, the N.C. Division of Employment Security received 113,002 claims for unemployment benefits. About 87 percent of those claims were related to COVID-19, said DES spokesperson Larry Parker.

The agency is staffed to handle about 3,000 claims in one week. Parker said the agency is in the process of hiring 50 additional people to process claims and has current staff working overtime and on weekends.

“Nothing has changed in regards to independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Independent contractors and self-employed workers are typically not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. In order to be eligible, workers must have held a job considered covered employment. A person’s employment is ‘covered’ if it is through an employer that is liable under state and federal law to pay unemployment insurance tax on that person’s wages. Some examples of non-covered employment are employment by a religious organization, commission-based insurance and independent contractors,” Parker wrote in an email to CBS17.

Cooper said grocery stores will remain open along with restaurants offering takeout and delivery.

“I ask again – please do not overbuy at the grocery store,” Cooper said.

The governor said grocery store officials say their supply lines remain open.

“We know the effects of this pandemic will not subside anytime soon,” Cooper said.

Cooper said more than 8,000 tests have been completed and 10,000 tests are waiting to be administered.

Dr. Mandy Cohen with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said the CDC has issued new guidelines in terms of who is high risk.

Cohen said those 65 and older, people living in nursing homes, people with chronic conditions at any age as well as people with severe obesity, heart disease or diabetes at any age.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

Cooper’s remarks come as the number of cases across the state eclipsed 300 on Monday.

NCDHHS reported 297 cases earlier in the day. Since that announcement, Mecklenburg County revealed 17 more cases and Johnston County announced one more.

A total of 45 North Carolina counties have cases of COVID-19.