NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee on Monday asked all schools in Tennessee to close by the end of the week due to coronavirus spreading across the state.
“Schools should remain closed through March 31, 2020 to further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease and we will issue further guidance prior to March 31,” Lee, a Republican, said in a statement.
Tennessee’s Department of Education will work with school districts and promised to soon issue guidance on closing that does not disrupt “academic instruction as well as critical meal and other services for students,” officials said Monday.
Additionally, the education department has set up a hotline for school district officials to help provide further information.
Tennessee joins a growing list of states that has seen statewide school closures over the past week, including Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, and South Dakota.
Major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have also announced school closures.
Even though most patients infected with the virus have only mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever or cold, school closures are widely accepted as a key way to slow the spread.
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 virus.
As of Monday, Tennessee had 52 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Twenty-five cases were in Davidson County, 18 were in Williamson County and two were in Shelby County. Single cases have been found in Campbell, Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, Rutherford, Sevier and Sullivan counties.
Also Monday, Lee joined the top leaders of the GOP-dominated Statehouse to announce lawmakers would only meet to pass the state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year and limit all other legislative business. The goal is to pass the spending plan in the next week and then recess for an undisclosed amount of time.
“Passing an amended budget now and recessing will allow the General Assembly to focus on an immediate plan of action, while still determining needs down the road,” the statement read.
At least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, declined to participate in Monday’s legislative activities — citing that she was following federal guidelines to limit interacting with groups of 50 people or more.
It was unclear how many other colleagues might be doing the same.
Just days earlier, Lee had halted all nonessential business travel for state employees and banned visitors and tours from the state Capitol.
Along with the Capitol, top lawmakers have also agreed to close the state’s legislative office building to the public beginning Monday. Legislative staffers over the age of 60 or those with chronic medical illnesses, however, were encouraged to stay home.
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