Wisconsin governor orders all public schools to close

A paper sign on a glass door says "school closed."
Osceola High School in Osceola, Wis. was closed Tuesday for cleaning after someone testing positive for the coronavirus attended a function Saturday at the school.
Renee Jones Schneider | Star Tribune via AP file

Updated: 5:20 p.m.

Gov. Tony Evers on Friday ordered all of Wisconsin's K-12 schools to be closed by next week in the hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, a drastic move that will affect nearly a million children and their families.

The decision will force students to shift to online learning models and parents to scramble to find babysitters or arrange to work from home. The order says the anticipated reopen date is April 6.

Evers made the move after state health officials announced earlier Friday that the number of confirmed infections had risen to 19, up from eight just a day earlier.

Victims include a Sun Prairie after-school care program worker and a University of Wisconsin-Madison employee in the college's School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin's chief medical officer for communicable diseases, said health officials are investigating transmission vectors, but he does not believe community spread — or the spread of a disease where the source is unknown — has occurred yet.

School closures must begin by Wednesday to allow districts time to make plans for students, families and staff, although districts can choose to close sooner, Evers said in a statement announcing the order.

“Closing our schools is not a decision I made lightly, but keeping our kids, our educators, our families, and our communities safe is a top priority as we continue our work to respond to and prevent further spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Evers said, referring to the disease the caused by the coronavirus.

At least nine other states and a number of large urban school districts have closed schools in response to the virus' spread. The states include Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia and Louisiana. The urban districts include Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

More than a dozen suburban Milwaukee districts closed their schools Friday ahead of Evers' decision. They said in a joint statement that the closures will begin Monday and will run until at least April 13.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. 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 new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases may take three to six weeks to get better.