Virginia Closes Schools for 2 Weeks Because of Coronavirus

Virginia declared a state of emergency on Thursday

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What to Know

  • All schools in Virginia will close March 16-27, at a minimum, the governor announced Friday.
  • The number of coronavirus cases in Virginia was 30 on Friday, almost doubling from the previous day.
  • Fairfax County had 10 cases as of Saturday.

All K-12 schools in Virginia will close for at least two weeks as officials try to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Schools will close Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27, at a minimum, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday afternoon.

“We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” he said in a statement.

“I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus," he continued. "This is a fluid and fast-changing situation. We will do everything possible to ensure that students who rely on school nutrition programs continue to have access to meals, and that the disruption to academics is as minimal as possible."

Education officials are working to ensure that students who qualify for free or reduced-cost meals are still able to get those meals.

The number of coronavirus cases in Virginia jumped to 30 on Friday, nearly doubling from the day before, state health officials announced.

As of Saturday afternoon, Washington, D.C., had 10 cases, Maryland had 26 and Virginia had 41. Go here to read what we know about the patients.

Seventeen people had tested positive for coronavirus in the state on Thursday. Patients' results are first tested at Virginia labs, then presumptive positive cases are sent to the CDC for confirmation.

Fairfax County is the heaviest hit in Northern Virginia, now with six cases. Statewide, James City County, has the highest number of cases, seven.

Eleven cities and counties have patients, including Arlington County, Loudoun County, Prince William County and the City of Alexandria.

Northam declared a state of emergency Thursday and said he was canceling all state conferences and large events for the next 30 days. He urged local governments and private organizers to follow suit. He also announced new restrictions on travel for state workers. 

Dr. Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist, said there is so far no sign of "community spread" of the virus in Virginia.

The coronavirus has infected around 136,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people who contract it recover within weeks.

Justin Finch

Prior to Northam's decision to close all schools individual school districts struggled with the decision of whether to remain open. Virginia's largest school system defended its decision to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic only to capitulate hours later in the face of angry parents, exemplifying the difficult decision schools faced throughout the state.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand appeared at a news conference Thursday afternoon and defended the decision to stay open, even though neighboring Loudoun County and the entire state of Maryland, just across the Potomac River, announced plans for an extended closure.

By 8 p.m. Thursday, the superintendent emailed a note to all parents with a quote from the county's health director supporting his decision to stay open. She noted that all of the cases in Virginia, so far, could be traced to international travel or direct exposure to someone with the virus. Maryland, on the other hand, had seen its first case of "community spread" in which a person had contracted the illness without such a direct connection.

"Schools serve an important and vital function in our community. Keeping schools open, whenever possible, is critical at this time," said Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu. "If, and when, it is determined that our contact investigations show any connection to the school system, we would provide closure guidance and recommendations."

News4's Doreen Gentzler shows a timeline of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

Brabrand did, though, announce cessation of all after-school activities, sports, and community use of the schools through April 12.

But that wasn't enough to appease worried parents. By midnight, Brabrand reversed course and closed schools Friday.

"During the past several hours we continue to hear genuine concerns from parents about keeping our schools open while the coronavirus response escalates around the country," he wrote. "As a result, and in an abundance of caution, I believe it is prudent for FCPS to cancel school tomorrow to help ease parent, staff, and student anxiety."

At one of the last events in the school system before the closures went into effect, bands at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church performed a concert in front of a sparsely attended crowd of parents and family members, easily less than half the attendance for a normal concert. Parents remarked that the situation reminded them of the 2002 sniper spree in the nation's capital area, when people refused to go out in public as a series of random sniper shootings claimed the lives of 10 people over a three-week span.

"Stay healthy. Stay safe," band director Paul Vesilind told attendees as the concert concluded.

On Friday, Arlington, Falls Church and Alexandria City schools joined those closing.

Precautions taken because of the coronavirus are an effort to flatten the curve. News4's Leon Harris explains.

A growing number of universities have suspended on-campus instruction, extended spring break, or both. Those include the University of Virginia, William & Mary, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Longwood University, where a student tested positive for COVID-19.

Arlington National Cemetery closed to most visitors on Friday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but said funerals will continue as scheduled.

The cemetery announced the move in a series of tweets, citing Defense Department directives and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. It said families arriving for funerals will be asked to remain in their cars while queuing up, and that the rest of the cemetery will be open only to family pass holders.

Stay with News4 for more on this developing story.

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