Gov. Carney orders Del. schools closed until March 27
DOVER – Less than two days after Delaware confirmed its first positive coronavirus patient, Gov. John Carney ordered Friday night that all public schools close until March 27 – a decision that will carry significant economic impacts.
Delaware public health officials announced the state’s first positive case, a University of Delaware faculty member, of the virus known as COVID-19 on March 11. The next morning officials announced that two UD graduate students and a postdoctoral researcher who had been in contact with the faculty member at a February off-campus party were also found to be positive, raising the total number to four.
That led UD and the state’s other higher education institutions to suspend in-class instruction and move to online-only learning for temporary or semester-long periods. In the meantime, public schools did not announce plans to suspend learning despite some charter, parochial and independent schools announcing plans to do so.
On Thursday evening, Carney declared a state of emergency that went into effect at 8 a.m. Friday, activating the Delaware National Guard to assist as needed, limiting non-essential public gatherings to 100 people or less, and prohibiting price gouging, among other measures. It did not close schools or businesses though.
As neighboring states like Maryland and Pennsylvania announced statewide school closures, however, questions grew in Delaware about whether to follow suit. In his letter to state school system superintendents, it appears that not all state officials agreed in the decision to close schools.
“Based on the current status of coronavirus in our state, the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) has not recommended that we close schools. This virus could be with us for many months and closing schools may have negative effects for our children, and for parents who must work to support their families. Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, I am directing Delaware public schools to close from March 16 through March 27,” Carney wrote to educators Friday.
Carney cited the DPH stance that schools, as controlled environments where leaders know exactly who comes and goes, make it easier for officials to manage the COVID-19 response. Longer closures are effective measures to fight community spread, but Delaware has yet to detect that factor, Carney said, noting all transmissions have been linked to an isolated event.
“But we understand there is broad public concern, and the urgent need for preparation,” he said.
Carney said that the break will although the state to work with school leaders and public health experts to create a plan for Delaware students and educators, and give districts a chance for a deep cleaning of their facilities.
“Delaware children deserve a world-class education, and ongoing access to services that are delivered in our schools each day. Many students – especially those from disadvantaged communities – also rely on school meals for nutrition, and other important social services. We will be working with districts to plan for providing learning opportunities and other meal and social services in the event of an extended closure,” Carney said in his letter.
The decision to unexpectedly close schools will have widespread economic ramifications, however, as parents and guardians try to find accommodations for children who would normally be in school. That may also lead to a greater number of small businesses closing, or at least depleting staffing at businesses big and small, as employees stay home with children.
By Jacob Owens