CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday closed schools for the rest of the year over concerns about the coronavirus.
The Republican governor had previously canceled in-person classes through the end of April but said he now has no choice but to extend the statewide closures. Online classes and other remote learning strategies will continue.
“The last thing on the planet I would do is put our kids in harm’s way,” he said.
Justice had previously resisted calls to close schools for the remainder of the year, saying it would be good for kids to return to classrooms even if for a few weeks.
State schools superintendent Clayton Burch said the governor “really was optimistic that our children would have some time together at the end of the school year and just really came to the realization that it was going to be really tough.”
Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, praised Justice’s decision.
“It’s just too risky and we’ve got to make sure that we’re keeping our kids safe above all,” he said.
The announcement came a day after Justice moved to ease virus restrictions on hospitals if they can prove they have enough protective equipment and could handle an unexpected surge in cases. As he shifted his attention toward restarting the economy, Justice and his administration said the state has dramatically increased its testing capacity though a partnership with LabCorp, a major lab testing company.
At least 914 people have the virus after more than 22,700 tests, state health officials said Tuesday. Twenty-six people have died.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can bring about more severe illness, including pneumonia, and even death.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.