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Whitmer orders all Michigan K-12 schools to close for 3 weeks

The state is closing schools for three weeks to slow the spread of coronavirus.

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday she is ordering all K-12 schools to close starting Monday, March 16 until Sunday, April 5. School buildings are scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 6. 

The schools, including all public, private and boarding schools, are being closed to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state. The closures do not include childcare centers, Whitmer said.

The first two cases in Michigan tested positive on Tuesday, and on Thursday the total number of cases jumped to 12. There are now presumptive positive cases in Kent, Montcalm, Ingham, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

"In an abundance of caution, I am ordering the closure of all K-12 schools buildings in Michigan for three weeks," Whitmer said at a late night Thursday press conference. "This is not a decision I am taking lightly." 

Watch the full press conference here

States like Ohio, Kentucky and Maryland have taken similar actions. Whitmer said the administration feels it is a necessary step to protect kids, teachers and families. The governor said she believes school employees should be paid during the closure. 

"I know this will be a tough time for our parents and educators, and I urge businesses to do everything they can to support employees at this time," Whitmer said. "Some parents will have to stay home with their children, and not every parent will have the ability to do so. Not every parent has paid leave, though I think they should."

Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice said closing K-12 schools is a responsible decision to keep everyone involved safe. He acknowledged that doing so will be challenging. 

"There are many children in Michigan that rely on our schools for meals," said Rice. "We will be working with our local school districts to provide guidance to help children access food during this time." 

There are ramifications to these decisions, Whitmer said, that could affect both students who get lunches from their schools and standardized testing. Whitmer said the timeline lines up with many districts' scheduled spring break, but there are some districts in West Michigan that have a break that starts after the closure is lifted. 

"We are encouraging schools which this doesn't line up with spring break that they adjust and plan to be back in school on April 6," Whitmer said.

Some West Michigan districts, including Grand Rapids Public Schools are closing on Friday, and will remain closed through April 5. 

This decision also follows many Michigan colleges and universities that have canceled in-person classes and are instead holding online classes

RELATED: 10 new cases of coronavirus in Michigan, including 4 in West Michigan

“Closing our school buildings is the smart thing and the right thing to do for the public’s health,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. 

Khaldun said she expects there to be more cases and community spread. State health officials are testing for COVID-19 seven days a week. 

"While we do not need to panic, this is very serious. Everyone must do their part to prevent the spread of the disease," said Khaldun. 

Michiganders are being encouraged to telecommute for work, if they are able. People who are at risk for severe illness are also asked to take precautions in public places. Khaldun said if anyone is concerned they might have COVID-19, they should talk to their doctor. 

"We've always known that the coronavirus would appear in Michigan. With all the travel that happens and the aggressive nature of the spread of this virus, we knew that this day was going to come," Whitmer said. 

RELATED: Gov. Whitmer urges Michiganders to take precautionary steps to slow spread of COVID-19

Whitmer declared a state of emergency earlier this week after the first cases in Michigan were confirmed to help reduce the spread of the virus.

On March 3, as cases of coronavirus continued to pop up across the country, Whitmer announced the creation of four task forces to combat the spread of the virus. They are:

  1. The COVID-19 Task Force on State Operations, which will oversee all aspects of state operations, including employment and facilities.
  2. The COVID-19 Task Force on Health and Human Services, which will cover the provision of medical and human services.
  3. The COVID-19 Task Force on Education, which will cover all K-12 public schools, universities and colleges
  4. The COVID-19 Task Force on Economy/Workforce, which will cover the general economic impact, workforce, supply chain and business continuity.

Whitmer also activated the State Emergency Operations Center at the end of February to coordinate with state, local and federal agencies to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus and ways to prevent its spread? 

The CDC says patients with confirmed infection have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

The best prevention for viruses, such as influenza, the common cold or COVID-19 is to:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or upper sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home, and avoid contact with others.

Have more questions about coronavirus? We asked health experts: 

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