W.Va. Gov. Justice closing state schools indefinitely

Published: Mar. 13, 2020 at 11:35 AM EDT
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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says the state still doesn't have a confirmed case of COVID-19, but he's made a tough decision to close schools across the state.

Justice made the announcement during a news conference Friday at the state Capitol. The governor says schools will be closed starting Monday, March 16.

"The one thing we have in West Virginia that, maybe maybe those states may not have to the magnitude that we have is the elderly," Justice said about protecting grandparents and older teachers. "You know, we are an older state and the elderly is where this monster attacks."

The governor said he doesn't know how long he will close schools, but he will keep them closed as long as the state needs to.

"What the governor is trying to do is be proactive, and what we are trying to do is keep our citizens safe," Department Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said. "We are really, at this point, ahead of this. Now, are we going to have cases? Yes, we will have cases in West Virginia."

The governor said this was a tough decision because schools are a safe place for a lot of children and somewhere they can get nutritional meals. He says the state will work this weekend to find ways to help these children during the closure.

"They are all ready," Superintendent of West Virginia Schools Clayton Burch said. "They knew this day would come. They knew they would have to feed. Now they can do that in a variety of ways. They can deliver, they can do pickups."

"We are going to do similar to what Kentucky is doing," Burch said. "We will make sure the basics are met. We do have adults that are ready. We have counties and districts that are ready for distance learning, but more importantly we have adults that are ready to support the schools."

DHHR said 17 negative cases have been tested as of Friday afternoon. Four cases were still pending.

Justice started his news conference by urging people to keep washing their hands and avoiding large crowds.

"We all have to take a look at our family and protecting our family, especially those that are elderly because that is really where this virus is the worst," Crouch said. "So please everyone look at your own situation and develop plans for that situation."

Justice said hospitals will remain open to visitors and senior centers will remain open to activities. Day cares will also remain open on a case by case basis.

The West Virginia National Guard is on standby to assist similar to a normal natural disaster.