OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced Monday that due to the coronavirus outbreak schools will remain physically closed for the remainder of the school year and that the state’s more than 1.2 million public and private K-12 students will continue distance learning until the end of June.
Schools have been shut statewide since March 17, and were originally scheduled to reopen April 27. Now, that closure is extended until midnight June 19 — when the spring term ends — and schools are encouraged to continue to provide distance learning.
"This closure is guided by science and is our greatest opportunity to keep our kids, educators and communities safe," Inslee said. "If there is any opportunity to bring students back for a few days, including graduation ceremonies for our seniors, we will continue to explore that option. That opportunity will be guided by our collective behavior and the success we can achieve with the choices we make today."
The order also asks schools to start planning for a potential expansion of the order into the summer and fall.
Under the order, some in-person and on-site services like meetings with seniors to help finish up final projects and tutoring support is allowed only if social distancing and proper hygiene practices are followed.
The governor's proclamation includes exceptions for students with disabilities and English language learners for whom distance learning would present challenges. Facilities would remain accessible for limited use, the state said, including providing child care and packing take-home meals for students' families to pick up.
Washington is now the 14th state in the country to close in-person learning at schools for the rest of the school year.
Last week, Inslee extended orders to keep non-essential businesses closed and most of the state’s residents home through May 4, saying that social distancing measures must remain in place an additional month in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Violation of the order is a gross misdemeanor, but the governor’s office has said the goal is education, not to arrest people.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal over the weekend conceded that returning to school before the end of this academic year would "be really tough to do."
As of Sunday afternoon, there were 7,984 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, with at least 338 deaths.
UW model predicts COVID-19 deaths in Washington state will decline after today
New data from a health research center at the University of Washington suggests that COVID-19 deaths in Washington state will peak again today (April 6) and continue going down for the foreseeable future.
According to The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Washington state's peak on health care resources peaked four days ago on April 2. Their model suggests that Washington state will not have a shortage of ICU beds or hospital beds.
The institute predicts 632 COVID-19 deaths in Washington state by August of this year and 81,766 across the country. The initial models for Washington state surpassed 1,000 deaths. And a model last updated on April 2 showed 11,765 more deaths in the U.S. than the current predictions.
The revised forecasts reflect "a massive infusion of new data" from New York, Massachusetts Georgia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida and California, Murray said.
They're also based on a very crucial contingent: that strict social distancing measures continue.
"As we noted previously, the trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. Our projections are strengthened by the new downturns in more regions. This is evidence that social distancing is crucial. Our forecasts assume that social distancing remains in place until the end of May," Murray said.
"If social distancing measures are relaxed or not implemented, the US will see greater death tolls, the death peak will be later, the burden on hospitals will be much greater, and the economic costs will continue to grow," he continued.