No widespread school closures planned for virus
PHOENIX (AP) — Schools in a town in rural southeastern Arizona were closed Thursday while health officials determine whether students had been exposed to the coronavirus. But there were no plans for a statewide shutdown.
Widespread shutdowns were not necessary at this point because there isn’t a broad spread of the virus, said Jessica Rigler, assistant director at the state Department of Health Services. The state has reported nine cases of the coronavirus.
In addition, Rigler said the COVID-19 virus doesn’t affect children in the same way as older adults, who can get severe symptoms. Schools provide lots of other services, such as free and reduced price lunches and stability for children
Larger public health challenges were also dictating the decision, Rigler said.
“When you close down school, unless parents are able to stay home with their children, which takes them out of the work force, those children are just cohorted somewhere else together because they need child care,” Rigler said.
State officials were encouraging keeping schools clean, recommending frequent washing of hands and sending students and staff home if they are sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The Pima Unified School District announced Wednesday night there was a report that an unspecified number of elementary school students were possibly exposed to “”to an unknown illness.”
The statement said schools would be closed Thursday out of caution while health officials determined whether the illness involved the coronavirus.
The district serves the town of Pima and two smaller communities in Graham County. The district’s website says the it has one high school, a junior high school and an elementary school and approximately 1,000 students.
Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman held a call with school superintendents statewide Thursday.
On the Navajo Nation, Diné College is extending spring break for another week with students returning to classes on March 23. The college will use the extra week to begin transferring some classes to online, administrators said.
In other developments, leaders of the state Legislature announced they would bar the public from most areas of the Capitol, including visitor galleries and hearing rooms. House Speaker Rusty Bowers said in a memo to staff that the Legislature was banning school field trips, a daily event during the session, and visits by dignitaries.
The memo urged lawmakers and staff to avoid in-person meetings and said older or more vulnerable employees could work from home. Members of the public who want to comment on legislation were urged to call or email their representatives or sign into the Legislature’s “Request to Speak” system.
Lawmakers rushed to approve a measure that appropriates $55 million to the state’s public health emergency fund, and Ducey promptly signed it.
A big hit also will come from Major League Baseball’s decision to cancel remaining spring training games and delay the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.
Fifteen Major League teams hold spring training in Phoenix and its suburbs. In 2018, the games generated an estimated $644.2 million in economic activity, according to the Arizona Cactus League Association. The season was set to end next week, so most games have already been played.