Durham Public Schools will close on March 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Superintendent Pascal Mubenga said Friday. They’ll remain that way until at least April 3. 

In doing so, DPS will follow the lead of Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which have made similar decisions. Wake County’s school district says it has no plans to close its schools.  

Mubenga said DPS will try to maximize the remainder of the school year, with closures that coincide with spring break. When the break ends on March 23, students will be given supplemental materials to study. In some cases, the district’s buses will be deployed to deliver learning materials food to students while they’re out of the classroom, while other educational materials will be made available online.

On April 3, Mubenga said, administrators will evaluate reopening schools with input from state and local public health authorities.

The school board’s decision to shut down schools was “really tough,” Mubenga continued. The tipping point “was hearing from parents who wanted to pull their kids from school.”

Mubenga pointed out that public health officials have recommended not assembling in large groups, which students do during lunch in school cafeterias. 

“We made the best decision for our parents as well as our community,” Mubenga said.

Moments before Mubenga spoke at a press conference on Friday, Rodney Jenkins, the Durham County’s public health director, said that since January, the Department of Public Health has deployed a team to coordinate the local response to the coronavirus.

There have been 17 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina and one confirmed case. Among the presumptive positives is a Durham County resident who was diagnosed while out of state. 

“Our team has partnered with federal and state health officials, health providers, and emergency management officials to protect the health and well-being of Durham County,” Jenkins said. 

He said that health officials will continue to monitor returning travelers and trace the contacts of individuals who test positive. The county will also follow recommendations from state and federal authorities to staunch the spread of the virus. 

Those recommendations include restricting visits to nursing homes and assisted living facilities except in cases of an emergency. Employers, meanwhile, should rely on telework technology as much as possible, keep workspaces at least six feet apart, use staggered work schedules and virtual conferences, and curtail non-essential travel. In addition, the county has asked that all concerts, conferences, sports, and religious services with more than 100 people be canceled or postponed, and Jenkins advised residents who are ill to avoid public transit. 

“We are at a critical inflection point. We may have the opportunity to slow the spread of this epidemic by taking proactive measures now,” Jenkins said. 

In related news, the city of Durham announced on Friday that it would join Raleigh and OWASA in suspending water disconnections for nonpayment for 30 days. 

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at tmcdonald@indyweek.com. 

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