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A massive number of students may remain out of school until the end of the academic year as officials attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has been rapidly spreading around the world.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, at least 69,000 U.S. schools — including all public schools across 35 states — had closed their doors by Monday afternoon, according to news journal Education Week.
Because officials are unsure of how long this pandemic will affect school closures, approximately 32.5 million public school students are now left wondering if they’ll get to return to classes within a few weeks or months — or if they will go back at all this academic year.
Three officials who expressed concern about the uncertain length of closures were New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
Though de Blasio held off closing schools for as long as possible since many students depend on free and reduced-cost meals — and many parents cannot take off work — the mayor was left with no choice and made the official announcement to close until April 20 on Sunday, according to The Washington Post.
“I would love nothing more than to re-open on April 20, which is right after our spring break,” de Blasio said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the Post reported. “But I fear that this crisis is going to start to crescendo through April, May before it ever gets better… I think that’s a hard atmosphere to reopen schools in.”
De Blasio did acknowledge that there was a possibility of schools reopening by mid-April but made it clear that extending the closures through the end of the year was also very likely, given the severity of the health crisis.
“I wanted to get people acclimated to a new reality that this is very well going to take us through the school year and maybe beyond because it’s not just the sheer track of the disease,” he said. “It’s all the other dislocations we have to deal with.”
DeWine echoed de Blasio’s sentiments on Sunday, telling CNN’s State of the Union that they closed schools for three weeks but, “the odds are, this is going to go on a lot longer, and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” the Post reported.
Morath added during a conference call with superintendents and legislative officials that Texas is “likely looking at large numbers of kids” missing the rest of the academic year and that it’s “marginally optimistic” to believe schools located in a coronavirus-impacted area will re-open within the next eight weeks, according to The Houston Chronicle.
Currently, there are 98,277 public schools in the U.S. and nearly 50.8 million public school students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In the U.S., there are now at least 3,927 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 68 people have died, according to the New York Times. Worldwide, there are now at least 173,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 7,281 deaths.
The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.
In addition to closing schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus, epidemiologists are urging Americans to practice social distancing — staying inside as much as possible and keeping about six feet between people — as many people may be asymptomatic.
Though the White House has said that the U.S. will not yet go into a national shutdown, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top expert on infectious diseases, said that placing further restrictions on daily life could significantly help to reduce the rate of infections of the new coronavirus.
“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said on Meet the Press on Sunday.
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