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State Officials Consider Closing Schools Due To Coronavirus


The coronavirus outbreak in the United States is changing the way we live. Five states and the District of Columbia are closing all schools K-12. And parents are left to figure out what to do about child care. NPR's Cory Turner is following all of this closely. Good morning, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So where are these statewide closures, and why are they happening now?

TURNER: Yes. So we're talking about Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Oregon - all announced statewide closures for the coming weeks. As for why now, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan suggested yesterday that the turning point for him was the state's first case of what's known as community transmission of COVID-19. That means the person who's infected had no known exposure from previous travel or from someone previously known to be infected. And I want to play one moment here from Governor Hogan's speech yesterday, where he really seemed to anticipate the criticism of some folks in his state who might think maybe he was overreacting.


LARRY HOGAN: For Marylanders, the actions that I have announced here today will be disruptive to your everyday lives. And they may sound extreme. And they may sound frightening. But they could be the difference in saving lives and helping keep people safe.

TURNER: Now, I have heard from researchers, Noel, who say this moment - this community transmission - is a really dangerous tipping point for a community and that closing schools, really, is one of the most effective tools that we have to slow the spread of a contagion. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said public and private schools in his state would close for three weeks. That's one week longer than in Maryland. He also said the state had confirmed the infection of a man who had no travel history outside of Ohio. DeWine said on Twitter that closing schools would hopefully keep the state's hospitals and clinics from having to ration limited resources. He said, quote, "We don't want our health care providers to have to make the decision of who lives and who dies." And also, as we said late yesterday, Michigan, Oregon, New Mexico followed suit. And it wouldn't surprise me to hear from other states in the near future.

KING: And then you have places where it's not the entire state that's closing, but school districts are closing - right? - significantly large school districts.

TURNER: Yeah, absolutely. And also, I should mention that the governor of Kentucky - while they didn't officially close schools statewide, he issued what he called a significant recommendation that schools close. Yeah, I really feel like we're at an inflection point, Noel. I mean, when I went to bed last night, there were just two states that announced closures. And now we've got five - if you count Kentucky, six - plus, as you said, big cities. Seattle Public Schools closed earlier this week. San Francisco schools announced they'll be closing. So it's really been a big 48 hours.

KING: Is there any kind of argument against closing schools, saying this is just not a good idea?

TURNER: Yeah. There is, actually. I've spent the last couple days on the phone with school leaders all over the country who tell me, you know, look. There are very real public health concerns to closing schools because they know they'll be sending kids home, many of them to households where there won't be any parents because parents can't take off of work. They won't be able to work from home. Also, it's really important to keep in mind that more than 20 million kids in this country depend on schools for free breakfast, free lunch, free snacks. And in some cases, I've been in schools where they offer free dinner. And I know from talking with school leaders this is, for many, the chief consideration right now - is, how are we going to continue feeding these kids if we don't have our schools open?

KING: And I guess the big question, of course, is whether lawmakers can think of anything to to help solve that problem. NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Thanks, Cory.

TURNER: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.