Governor J.B. Pritzker has ordered Illinois K-12 schools, public and private, closed through March 30, starting Tuesday.
The order is the latest in a string of measures meant to control the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that emerged in China in late 2019.
“I understand the gravity of this action and what it means for every community in our great state,” he said Friday in Chicago. “None of the decisions we have had to make over the last week have been easy or simple.”
Pritzker said earlier Friday that they had not decided to take any action on school closings. Several other states have also closed schools. A number of schools had already voluntarily closed.
The governor said he chose to allow schools to remain in session Monday so that teachers can assign activities and give instruction before the two-week break.
He also said the state would not order the closure of daycare centers.
Pritzker also ordered the Illinois State Board of Education to remain staffed so it can organize during the next steps of the closure and to help facilitate free meals to kids who need them at their homes.
“We are working with school districts that children who rely on schools for nutrition can continue to receive free breakfast and lunch every day,” Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala said.
She said school personnel would still be paid during the time off because it was considered an “act of God” event.”
The state announced Saturday that the first residents to test positive outside the Chicago area, including One Woodford County man in his 70s and Cumberland County man in his 70s. State health officials said Sunday that there were confirmed cases in Champaign, Clinton, Sangamon, Winnebago, and Whiteside Counties as well.
Pritzker also revealed that a woman in a DuPage County long-term care facility had tested positive for COVID-19. A similar infection in Washington resulted in a number of deaths in a matter of days.
“The situation is rapidly evolving,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, adding that the prime objective has now become preventing widespread community transmission.
Ezike said a 2013 study on influenza showed a school closure helped to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In total, 93 people in Illinois have been infected with COVID-19. None have died. One remains in critical condition.