Closing area schools will protect at-risk populations from COVID-19, infectious disease specialist says

Closing area schools will protect at-risk populations from COVID-19, specialist says

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thousands of Mid-South students are getting an extended break from school. COVID-19 concerns have prompted many campuses to close, from Kindergarten to college.

The six municipal school districts in Shelby County are remaining open for now, according to statements released from their respective districts. Shelby County Schools on Thursday morning announced students would be home through the end of March.

“SCS did consult with me before they issued that they were going to close for a week,” said Alisa Haushalter, Director of the Shelby County Health Department. “It also gives the school time to do cleaning, it gives them time to do planning, if we had a large outbreak.”

SCS in a statement Thursday morning said due to “national developments and rapidly changing conditions regarding the spread of COVID-19,” classes starting Friday, March 13 will be canceled until Monday, March 30. The closure includes a previously scheduled spring break. The district said all buildings will be thoroughly cleaned, and they are performing a risk assessment.

“It is people, in good faith, trying to protect their communities, and we hope that will be effective,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, with Threlkeld Infectious Diasese.

Threlkeld said it may be months before we know whether aggressive social distancing like canceling events, schools and other group activities will slow the spread of COVID-19. He said it is a way to prevent the virus from getting to at-risk populations like the elderly or those who are immunocompromised.

“If it spreads like wildfire asymptomatically among these younger kids, then that could be a danger to their older relatives,” he said.

There are two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Shelby County but no evidence of community spread, officials said Thursday.

Meantime, the Mid-South Food Bank said it is stepping up relief efforts, with a goal of packing up 30-pound boxes of food to supplement families for 14 days. That’s in light of SCS shutting down schools and seniors being fearful to get out.

“The people we serve, the low-income families, they don’t have the resources to have the reserve of food in the pantry, so we want to have something on hand that can help them,” said Marcia Wells, with the Mid-South Food Bank.

Thursday afternoon SCS announced they would provide sack lunches for students from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on March 23 through March 27. Locations of the distribution will be announced in the coming days.

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