Gov. J.B. Pritzker has ordered Illinois K-12 schools, public and private, closed through March, starting Tuesday.
The order is the latest in a string of measures meant to control the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus originated in China.
“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 ordered schools closed.
The freshman governor said he chose to allow school 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 daycare centers closed.
Pritzker also ordered the Illinois State Board of Education to remain staffed so they can organize during the next steps of the closure as well as 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 everyday,” Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala said.
She said school personnel would still be paid during the time off, as it’s considered an “act of God” event.”
The state also announced an additional 14 cases of COVID-19, all but one being in Cook County. One is in Lake County.
“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, 46 people have been infected with COVID-19 but none have died. One remains in critical condition.