Governor Jim Justice said on Friday he was closing schools in West Virginia. The closure will begin Monday and last indefinitely.
“Here’s going to be another tough decision — What do we do about schools?” Justice said during a press conference on Friday. “We have a lot of kids in our schools, where the school is the safe place, the school is the place where I get fed, where I get two meals a day, where I learn, where I feel really safe.”
But the evolving health risk of COVID-19 made the decision all but inevitable, the governor said.
“Tough decision; tough, tough decision,” Justice said. “I’m closing the schools.That’s all there is to it.”
Justice said there is no definite end date for the shutdown.
“We’ll close the schools as long as we have to close the schools,” he said.
“There are real benefits to keeping the schools open,” Justice acknowledged. “If you know my heart, you know I love all the kids. But when you think about this one question… What if we awaken to a real-life, bad situation? What if we awaken to a situation where we’ve lost of bunch of our elderly people? How are you going to answer the question of, why did you wait?”
Justice said so far West Virginia has tested just 12 people per CDC guidelines. Eleven of those were negative, and one is still pending.
But he also acknowledged the virus is almost certainly already in the state.
“We know it’s here,” Justice said. “Let’s be real. We just haven’t found it yet, but it’s got to be here.”
Justice said one issue going forward will be how the state’s hospitals and healthcare facilities will be able to handle a potential surge of patients.
“If this thing were to turn really ugly, are our hospitals able to handle a surge of the numbers of people that could possibly happen?” Justice asked.
With schools closed, Justice said the Department of Education is working with other state agencies to provide support to students and families who need it during the shutdown. That includes preparing and delivering meals. Details will be forthcoming from local school districts.
Sen. Joe Manchin announced Friday that the USDA had approved a waiver for West Virginia to offer meals during a school closure.
“The USDA approved a waiver 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 if West Virginia schools close due to the coronavirus outbreak,” a press release from Manchin’s office says. “This approval allows West Virginia to be reimbursed for the meals provided to our most vulnerable students across the state outside of a school setting to avoid unnecessary large groups during the outbreak.”
Manchin noted the large number of children impacted by the decision.
“West Virginia is home to over 120,000 children who receive free school meals,” Manchin said. “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.”
State officials also said decisions about the 180-day requirement and assessment tests have not been finalized.
“Meeting 180 days was not primarily on my mind,” State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said at the press conference. “We will deal with those things, but the primary concern was health and safety.”
Justice said that despite the impact to daily life, this is about mitigating a potential crisis before it happens.
“Let’s keep living our lives and let’s keep doing absolutely anything and everything to help one another,” Justice said.
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