The state of West Virginia will close all public schools in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus, the governor announced Friday.
Classes will continue as usual on Friday and then schools will be closed starting Monday.
As of Friday morning, West Virginia was one of the few states in the country to have no confirmed cases of the virus.
Gov. Jim Justice said the closure will last "as long as we have to close the schools."
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?'"
As of Friday afternoon, state health officials said West Virginia has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 after 12 people have been tested, with 11 negatives and one test still pending. But Justice said that with so few tests being done, people could be infected and not know it.
"We know it's here," the governor said. "I mean, let's be real, it has to be here — we just haven't found it yet, but it's got to be here."
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.
Also on Friday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced that a U.S. Department of Agriculture waiver will allow the state to continue a free food program for students if schools shut down. More than 120,000 students in West Virginia receive the free meals, his news release said.
The governor said he is aware that many children in the state rely on schools for meals.
"Within every way we possibly can, we're going to take care of those kids," Justice said.
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 suspended state high school basketball tournaments and imposed travel restrictions for state employees. 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.
Additionally, the governor discouraged any large gatherings.
Stay with News4 for more details on this developing story.