Five states, District of Columbia order schools to close amid COVID-19 outbreak

March 13 (UPI) -- The governors of Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico and Oregon ordered all schools in their states to close while the governor of Kentucky recommended they shut their doors as they attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The District of Columbia joined them Friday morning, announcing that D.C. Public Schools will be closed until April 1.


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the school closures among several other measures the state adopted on Thursday during a press conference after the state recorded its first community transmission of the deadly COVID-19 virus, meaning the infected patient has no known exposure to the disease. The state has 12 confirmed COVID-19 patients, according to its Department of Health.

Hogan told reporters the development shows the state is entering a new phase of contamination and the public should expect the number of infections in Maryland "to dramatically and rapidly rise."

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"Our primary focus is now turning from containment to aggressively working to mitigate and limit the spread of the virus," he said. "...We believe that all of us need to take serious actions to limit day-to-day interactions and activities and we all need to do our part to stop this virus from spreading."


Schools will be closed from Monday through to March 27, during which time all school buildings and school buses should be cleaned and disinfected to prevent the virus' spread upon the resumption of classes, the governor's office detailed in a press release on the measures Hogan announced Thursday.

Hogan also announced the prohibition of mass gatherings of more than 250 people, including religious, spiritual and sporting events, adding Maryland to a growing list of states to do so, including California, Oregon and Washington.

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He also said senior centers will be closed from Friday and that no passenger or crew member will be permitted to disembark from a cruise ship at the Port of Baltimore that has made a port call outside of the United States since Jan. 31.

"This problem continues to evolve and will escalate rapidly and dramatically," he said. "For Marylanders, the actions I have announced here today will be disruptive to your everyday lives. They may seem extreme, and they may sound frightening, but they could be the difference in saving lives and keeping people safe."

D.C. schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said the decision to shutter schools in the nation's capital was made to ensure "the well-being of our students and school communities."

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During the shutdown, he said, there will also be no school-sponsored activities such as athletics, extracurriculars, field trips, events, or after-school programs.

Earlier Thursday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that he has ordered all kindergarten through 12th-grade schools to close from Monday until April 3.

"This order includes all public, community and private K-12 schools in the state, but does not apply to Ohio's childcare system," his office said in a statement.

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While closed, DeWine said the schools should work "to provide education through alternative means" and school districts can make decisions on the use of their buildings.

"Staff members should continue to report to school as directed by administrators," the statement read.

The governor also banned mass gatherings of more than 100 people after Ohio confirmed its fifth COVID-19 infection.

The order, signed by Amy Acton, director of Ohio's Department of Health, takes immediate effect, prohibiting more than 100 people in a single space, including theaters, stadiums and arenas, though sporting events may be held if spectators are excluded.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of all public, private and boarding schools from Monday until April 5 "to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus," her office said in a statement.


"This is a necessary step to protect our kids, our families and our overall public health," Whitmer said. "... I know this will be a tough time, but we're doing this to keep the most people we can safe. I urge everyone to make smart choices during this time and to do everything they can to protect themselves and their families."

The announcement came a day after Whitmer announced the state's first two presumptive cases of COVID-19. On Thursday, the Michigan Department of Health said there were 12 presumptive cases requiring confirmation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in a statement Thursday that the state's K-12 schools will close for three weeks from Monday as the state confirmed its sixth COVID-19 patient.

"This is a proactive measure to limit the potential community spread of COVID-19," Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a statement. "We have seen other states take this measure after they have experienced community spread of this virus. New Mexico is going to be proactive and do everything we can to prevent the potential spread of this virus."

In Oregon, a day after Gov. Kate Brown issued a ban on gatherings of 250 people, she ordered schools in the state to close until March 31.


Brown said in a statement she is taking this measure as "it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences."

"Schools are experiencing critical shortages in staff and superintendents are concerned for school personnel who are at elevated risk, such as those over age 60 and those with underlying medical issues," she said.

Brown clarified that suspending school will not stop the spread of the coronavirus, warning the public to avoid older adults caring for students who are out of school when possible.

"This is a trying time for our community and I am reluctant to increase the burden on families who are already struggling to adapt to and stay healthy during this crisis," she said. "However, we are left with little choice in light of school districts' staff capacity and operational concerns."

The Oregon Health Authority raised the state's number of cases to 30 on Thursday after confirming six more infections.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear edged his state closer to doing likewise by recommending that school superintendents close their facilities from Monday. He said the recommendation was based on the advice of medical professionals.

"This coming Monday, we are recommending that Kentucky's public and private schools cease in-person classes for at least the next two weeks," Beshear said in a statement. "This is a big and necessary step and announcing it gives our superintendents, teachers and parents the time to prepare. It is important for children to go to school tomorrow so they can get the resources they need for the next couple of weeks."


According to the state's Department of Public Health, Kentucky has 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

As of mid-day Thursday, three public school districts in the state said they had already closed while two others announced they would close Friday and the Kentucky School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf both confirmed they would be closing Monday, according to the Kentucky Governor's Office, adding that most said they would reopen by April 13.

The Archdiocese of Washington also announced Thursday that all Catholic schools in the state would close.

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