Gov. Phil Scott has ordered the closing of all K-12 schools in Vermont in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The move announced on Sunday follows similar actions taken by about two-dozen states. An estimated 25 million students across the nation will be home for various periods. Vermont schools will be closed from Wednesday until at least April 6. The governor said the action “may very well be extended for a longer period.”
Schools will continue to provide some essential services for select groups in need. This includes special needs services and meals for needy families. Child care options will be available for health care workers and other emergency response personnel.
Systems are being put in place to ensure a “continuing education plan” if the closure extends beyond April 6. The Vermont Department of Health is providing “social distancing” guidance for schools.
While schools will be open Tuesday, attendance will be optional for students. Only staff will be required to attend.
“The orderly dismissal of schools is essential to support both the State’s response to COVID-19 and the needs of children and families across Vermont,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement. “We must ensure children are safe, nourished, and still learning even as the traditional structure of school is disrupted. … This is a moment of service for all of us.”
The governor is working with superintendents to ensure that the schools will continue to provide certain essential services and that the teachers give assignments to take home over the break.
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the decision to close schools is recommended by the Health Department.
“This decision is based on the best scientific evidence available to the experts at the Vermont Department of Health,” he said. “Closing schools at the end of the day Tuesday is another important step to help keep us ahead of the curve, in terms of preventing and reducing spread of COVID-19.”
Scott said a collaborative effort would be needed to make the process work.
“We need local government — and especially our schools and educators — to lend their capable hands and their enormous hearts in this effort,” he said. “It is very important to the overall response.”
Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said that schools in the Buckeye State may be done for the year.
“Going by what medical experts are telling us, [the outbreak] may not peak until the latter part of April or May,” he said. “We’ve informed superintendents while we’ve closed schools for three weeks, odds are we will go on a lot longer.”
Not everyone is taking the strategy of preventing mass gatherings. Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the government in the United Kingdom, has suggested a strategy that allows for up to 60 percent of residents to get the virus, to develop “herd immunity,” while maintaining a normally functioning economy. The issue continues to be debated.
“The most likely place you are going to get an infection from is a family member, a friend, someone very close in a small space, not in the big space,” Vallance said.
Dr. Joshua White of the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph says Vermont residents should maintain rational behaviors and not exacerbate the situation by raiding stores.
As of March 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 3,487 cases of COVID-19 and 68 deaths from the virus. By comparison, regular seasonal influenza cases since October total at least 36 million and have caused between 22,000 and 55,000 deaths, according to the CDC.