West Virginia governor announces plan to close all schools across the state

Published: Mar. 13, 2020 at 11:48 AM EDT
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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has announced that all schools across the state will be closed starting this coming Monday as a response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a press conference Friday morning, Justice said the state still doesn't have any confirmed cases of COVID-19, but said he's made the tough decision to close schools across the state.

While there have been no confirmed positive tests, Justice acknowledged that the reality is that there are likely cases in the state that haven't been tested.

“We know it’s here," Justice said, "Let’s be real. We just haven’t found it, but it’s got to be here.”

Until the past few days, testing has been difficult to obtain for many people in parts of the U.S., with CDC guidelines strictly limiting who could be tested and tests only available at state labs in many cases. More commercial tests are now available through partnerships with hospitals, increasing testing in states like Virginia, which has seen positive test results from commercial labs over the past day.

Health department secretary Bill Crouch said a lack of testing has been a problem nationwide, and that hospitals in the state will begin testing for the virus next week. He said a positive test in the state is almost certainly on the way.

"What the governor is trying to do is be proactive and what we're trying to do is keep our citizens safe," Crouch said.

Governor Jim Justice made the announcement during a news conference Friday at the state capitol. The governor says schools will be closed starting Monday, March 16.

The governor said it was a tough decision to close the state's schools, but he believes it's the right thing to do. He says he doesn't know how long he will close schools, but he will keep them closed as long as the state needs to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students.

There are benefits to keeping schools open, but “to me, the risk outweighs the good,” he said. “How would you answer the question, ‘Why did you wait?’”

Justice said it was a very hard decision for him to make because he knows schools are a safe place for a lot of children and a place they get meals. He says the state will work this weekend to find ways to help these children during the closure.

On Thursday night, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and got a waiver approved for the West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition to prepare to feed children meals following the Summer Food Service Program and National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option guidelines while schools are closed.

“West Virginia is home to over 120,000 children who receive free school meals. This is more than 120,000 children who would go hungry without schools providing the food these children and their families rely on. The USDA has approved the waiver application for the West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition to ensure these students don’t go hungry if West Virginia schools are closed during the coronavirus outbreak. I am glad Secretary Perdue agrees this is an urgent matter and hope that this will help our state leaders make the right decisions to protect all West Virginians from this virus, including closing our schools if necessary,” said Senator Manchin.

Justice said later in the day that the West Virginia Department of Education will work over the next 72 hours to develop guidance for pre-K through 12th grade classes to ensure the continuity of important student services, including a strategy for providing meals.

So far, 12 tests have been conducted in the state of West Virginia. Governor Jim Justice announced Friday morning 11 of those tests have been negative. However, one case is still pending.

Governor Justice started his news conference by urging people to keep washing their hands and avoiding large crowds.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority recover in several weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness, including pneumonia.

On Thursday, the governor

. He also asked West Virginians to reconsider non-essential out-of-state travel, warned against gathering in large crowds and requested that nursing homes limit visitors, echoing similar precautions taken throughout the country.