States Order Widespread School Closures to Blunt Coronavirus Spread

A sign promoting breakfast being served at Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., is shown Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

A sign promoting breakfast being served at Lowell Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., is shown Tuesday, March 10, 2020. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Across the country, governors are increasingly ordering school closures and bans on large gatherings as state and local governments work to slow community spread of the virus.

Update: After this article was published, many more states have ordered all schools to close, including Louisiana, West Virginia, Virginia, New Mexico, Oregon, Michigan and Washington, D.C. also ordered all schools to close.

Governors in Maryland and Ohio on Thursday ordered arguably the most aggressive statewide restrictions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, shuttering schools across their states for weeks. 

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine will close public, private and community schools across the state for three weeks and ban gatherings of more than 100 people. The prohibitions are meant to slow community spread of the new coronavirus, which has thus far not been as widespread in that state as in hotspots like Washington, California and New York. 

Five people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Ohio, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, while another 52 cases are under investigation and 333 people are under health supervision, officials said on Thursday. Those under health supervision includes travelers referred to the Ohio Department of Health for monitoring and those who have completed self-monitoring and are not exhibiting symptoms of illness.

 “We have a responsibility to save lives,” said DeWine. “We could have waited to close schools, but based on advice from health experts, this is the time to do it.”

School closures in Maryland, where 12 people have tested positive, will begin Monday and will extend for two weeks. Gov. Larry Hogan said the closures will take effect Monday. He also banned public gatherings of 250 people or more. 

“As I have warned and have repeatedly stressed, this problem is going to continue to escalate and evolve rapidly and dramatically,” Hogan said. 

Ohio’s closures will begin Tuesday and include all public, private and charter schools with students in kindergarten through 12th grade. DeWine noted that while the risk of death for children infected by coronavirus appears to be low, children can be carriers of the virus and could potentially infect others.

“We have to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this virus,” DeWine said.

Individual schools will make determinations about whether or how they will offer virtual classes or other online learning during the closures, the governor said.

Even as lawmakers have enacted bans on large gatherings or otherwise sought to encourage “social distancing,” they’ve struggled with how to deal with schools which can serve as social safety nets for low-income children. In one of the hardest hit regions, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday banned large gatherings in three counties in the Seattle region. The next day he followed up with an order requiring all 43 schools districts in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to close for the next six weeks. 

In Ohio, the ban on gatherings will include any event of more than 100 people in a single room or space, such as an auditorium, stadium, theater or festivals, parades or fairs. The ban does not extend to the normal operation of public transit, libraries, restaurants, shopping malls, grocery stores or office environments.

Kentucky Gov, Andy Beshear on Thursday called for schools to close for two weeks, but did not order they do so. 

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools closed in Montgomery County, located outside Philadelphia, for two weeks and asked people to stop any non-essential travel. Within that county, which has 13 confirmed Covid-19 cases, the governor also ordered all gyms, community centers, universities and entertainment venues to close. Across the state, Wolf recommended people halt all large gatherings. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a ban on any event with more than 500 people. That meant Broadway shows would have to stop through April 12, as all of those theaters have more than 500 seats.

The coronavirus threat has already spurred voluntary cancellations, such as the NBA season being suspended after a player for the Utah Jazz tested positive for the illness. Cuomo’s action came after governors in Washington state, California and Oregon issued their own bans on large events.

Some local officials, like San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also issued orders to temporarily halt large events. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday urged cancellation of all events with more than 250 people, but activities at theme parks like Disneyland continued as normal on Thursday. However, Disney on Thursday said it would close its parks in California for the rest of the month starting on Saturday.

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Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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