North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum issued an executive order closing schools across the state for one week beginning Monday.
All public and private K-12 schools will be closed March 16-20, according to a statement issued late Sunday night that said the decision was based on guidance from public school superintendents, medical experts and the state Department of Health.
“Closing K-12 education is a proactive and aggressive approach to minimize community spread,” the statement quoted State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte as saying. “What we’ve learned this weekend from our medical advisors is that we need more time to ‘flatten the curve’ to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t overwhelm the health care system."
On Monday, Burgum said that K-12 schools closed by his executive order will not have to make up the instructional time later this school year. Burgum said he would waive all instructional hours scheduled to take place this week. That means schools will not have to reschedule their hours, and state aid payments to school districts will not be interrupted, the governor's office said.
The executive order is a course reversal for the Republican governor, who declared a state of emergency to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, but said then that schools would remain open.
Burgum told reporters on Friday the declaration give him the ability to activate the National Guard if necessary, but said unlike other states, North Dakota will keep K-12 schools open. He had said younger people apparently are not as affected by the virus that causes COVID-19, and closing schools would force children to stay with elderly grandparents who are more susceptible to the disease.
“We are making decisions based on facts, not on fear,” Burgum said Friday.
He echoed those words in Sunday's statement, saying the closure would give the state time to study the situation.
“We remain in a state of calm and continue to base our decisions on fact, not fear,” Burgum said. “We want to work through the situation, gain understanding and make sure we’re driven by data and solid strategies.”
The schools closure will be reassessed at the end of the week.
North Dakota has confirmed only one case of the disease. Health officials said the Ward County man in his 60s traveled to the East Coast and had contact with a person who also tested positive for the disease. He has isolated himself at home and his symptoms appear to be mild.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks.