Governor closes schools for rest of school year as COVID-19 restrictions tighten

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 23, 2020 | 4:07 p.m.

VIRGINIA – Governor Ralph Northam confirmed the school year for millions of Virginia students is effectively over as his administration directs all of the Commonwealth’s schools remain closed through June as part of a series of measures that hope to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state. 

Schools in Virginia closed last Monday at the governor’s direction as the number of COVID-19 cases began to rise. At that time, Northam said the closure would be in place for “at least” two weeks. Days before the earliest window for classes to resume, the governor would opt to keep students and teachers out of the classroom for the remainder of the school year.

“These measures are necessary to minimize the speed at which COVID-19 spreads and protect the capacity of our healthcare system,” Northam said as he detailed further restrictions to movement and business operations in the state Monday. “I know this raises a lot of questions for parents and our students.”

According to the governor, Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Education will “issue guidance to help school divisions think through” key decisions related to student instruction and educating pupils on materials they would’ve experienced in the classroom through the now-canceled school year and “ensure every student is served equitably.”

“We are already working on waivers to relieve testing requirements and ensure that our students who were on track to graduate can do so,” Northam said, adding that he understood the challenges the statewide closure places on parents and guardians of the Commonwealth’s students, further affected by business closures and social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“These questions are especially pressing for our essential workers, such as our doctors, nurses, first responders, and grocery store workers,” he continued. “These people keep our communities functioning. We have 1.2 million children under age 12 in our Commonwealth and half of them are in public schools or pre-schools. A Yale study estimates that 80,000 of them may be the children of healthcare workers so, we need an urgent public-private response. Today, I am calling on our local communities, private daycare providers, community childcare partners, and public schools to rally together to provide childcare for the young, school-aged children of essential personnel.”

“We must rally together to fill this pressing need across the Commonwealth while following strict public health protocols to keep our children safe,” Northam said.

During Monday’s press conference, the governor would go on to praise school districts for working to serve meals to their students, as has been done in a number of counties and cities, including those in Southside Virginia.

“I want to recognize the extraordinary work of everyone at the [Virginia] Department of Education and in our local schools who are continuing to make meals accessible to students during these closures,” he said. “Every single division in the Commonwealth has stepped up to the plate to figure out how to feed our children, and I sincerely thank them.”

The end of the Commonwealth’s school year was one of several more aggressive actions that will be in effect for “at least 30 days” to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19, whose confirmed cases in the state has risen to well over 200, along with six deaths, as of Monday. The Crater Health District, comprised of the Tri-Cities, Prince George, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Surry, Greensville, and the City of Emporia, has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of this report.

Among Northam’s actions, effective at 11:59 PM on March 24, “all recreation and entertainment services, such as bowling alleys, theaters, fitness centers, [and] race tracks, must close.”

In addition, “personal care services that cannot adhere to the social distancing guidelines, like barbershops, spas, and massage parlors” have also been ordered to close. 

List of Affected Businesses & Services, Per Governor Northam:

  • Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
  • Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;
  • Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;
  • Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;
  • Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

The governor has not directed non-essential businesses to close in his latest executive action, allowing them to continue operations as long as they “allow ten or fewer patrons and adhere to social distancing,” which calls for a minimum of six feet between individuals when out in public, “and increased sanitizing procedures.”

“Essential services, like grocery stores, health services, and businesses in our supply chain will remain open but, they must adhere to social distancing and increasing sanitizing procedures and gatherings of more than ten [people] are banned,” Northam continued.

List of Essential Businesses & Services, Per Governor Northam:

  • Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
  • Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
  • Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
  • Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
  • Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
  • Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
  • Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
  • Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
  • Retail located within healthcare facilities;
  • Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
  • Pet stores and feed stores;
  • Printing and office supply stores; and
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners.

Restaurants and other dining establishments can remain open but only for carryout, delivery, or curbside services to patrons.

“We do not make these decisions lightly. Virginia is one of the country’s largest and most diverse states but, COVID-19 is serious and we must act,” he said. “Unfortunately, the virus does not respect national or state borders. It is now everywhere or it will be soon. That is what happens when a global pandemic hits a nation.

“With this pandemic, states have been left to figure out this on our own and I am acting to protect Virginians,” the governor continued. 

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.

Information about COVID-19 is being shared as it becomes available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Also, consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirusfor the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.

The Virginia Department of Health has also activated a public information line, 877-ASK-VDH3, for questions from residents about the novel coronavirus situation.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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