New York City will close the US’s largest public school system on Monday, sending over 1.1 million children home in hopes of curbing the spread of coronavirus, the city’s mayor announced.
A sombre mayor Bill de Blasio announced the decision to close schools through at least April 20 — and possibly for the school year — as similar closures occurred in communities and entire states nationwide and pressure mounted from New York residents, city council members and others.
“I have no words for how horrible it is, but it has become necessary,” Mr de Blasio said.
“As of now, school is cancelled for tomorrow.”
Hours later, he also took aim at the city’s nightlife, saying he would sign an order on Monday limiting the city’s 27,000 restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery only.
The order, which would take effect on Tuesday, would also shut down all nightclubs, cinemas and concert venues.
The Democrat took the pair of actions on a day that New York City’s death toll from the virus rose to five and the number of infected residents multiplied.
Mr de Blasio had, for days, said that closing schools was a last resort.
Just Saturday, the Democratic mayor said keeping schools running was critical.
He worried that health care workers and first responders would have to stay home to care for children, and that hundreds of thousands of students could go without their free or reduced-price school meals.
He also expressed doubt that a temporary closure of just a few weeks would be effective in slowing the spread of the virus.
But the shutdown had started to seem inevitable on Sunday as Mr de Blasio lost key support to keep schools open and governor Andrew Cuomo called for all downstate schools to be closed.
County officials have said schools will shut as well on Long Island, in Erie County, including Buffalo, and in Westchester County.
The decision, late on a Sunday, put parents in a position of trying to arrange alternative childcare arrangements with little notice.
The school system, officials said, would attempt to quickly launch a “remote learning” programme a week from Monday, with teachers being trained on the methods beginning on Tuesday.
“They have been working on a wartime footing to prepare it,” Mr de Blasio said of administrators. He also announced that the city will open centres for the children of health care and emergency workers.
The shutdown affects the city’s nearly 1,900 public schools.
Many private schools already have closed. Multiple states had already announced they were closing schools. So have cities like Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.
The school closure is part of a strategy of trying to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing — having people stay away from each other, and especially avoid large groups.
Mr Cuomo had previously ordered an end to gatherings of 500 people or more, darkening Broadway theatres, sports arenas and concert halls. Most major museums in the city have been closing down.
“We’ve never been through anything like this,” Mr de Blasio said. “Everyone is confused. Everyone is in pain.”
He said the city would get through it through everyone “looking out for each other”.
Schools chancellor Richard Carranza called it “a very sobering day for all of us” and said the decision was made after a situation that’s been evolving and been monitored “day by day, hour by hour and in some cases, minute by minute”.
Earlier, George Gresham, president of the health care workers union SIEU 1199, had called on Mr de Blasio to close city schools, a reversal for the union, which had previously warned that hospitals could face a manpower crisis if health care workers had to stay home with their children.
Mr Gresham said on Sunday he was confident a plan could provide childcare for health care workers.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew called the decision to close schools “a critical step to reduce the spread of the virus and to help preserve the health of our students, their families and our staff”.