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Coronavirus In Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf Orders All Schools To Be Closed For Two Weeks In Effort To Contain COVID-19 Outbreak

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) -- Gov. Tom Wolf announced sweeping measures Friday aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, closing all Pennsylvania schools for two weeks.  Wolf also on Friday announced that, starting Monday, he was extending a day-old shutdown order affecting Montgomery County to Delaware County, another heavily populated Philadelphia suburb that Wolf said has exhibited "confirmed evidence of risk."

The order affecting more than 1.7 million school children, in public and private K-12 schools, came as confirmed cases in the state leaped to 41 from 22, including the first patients under 18 and the first cases west of the Susquehanna River.

Wolf, who also has discouraged large gatherings of people statewide and canceled prison visits, said his actions are designed to save lives and he urged people to stay calm and stay home.

"My hope is that we've taken actions that are both decisive and absolutely appropriate," Wolf told a news conference Friday afternoon at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Pennsylvania. "I know that some of you are worried, but we believe that, by asking everyone to cooperate and spend a few days limiting their interactions with other people, we can help control the spread of this virus in Pennsylvania."

Wolf said schools won't be penalized if they are unable to reach the 180 days of instruction required under state law. His administration, he said, would evaluate the decision at the end of the 10 days and decide whether to extend it.

Governors in several other states, including Maryland and Ohio, had already ordered schools closed.

Following the order, teachers' unions, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and other schools organizations released a joint statement in support of the move.

Some school officials in Pennsylvania, including in Philadelphia, had warned that children who depend on free or reduced-price meals in school might go hungry. Philadelphia officials had sought to keep their schools open, saying many children have just a single parent who might not be able to work if the child is home.

Wolf, however, said the state had received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow eligible schools to serve meals to students in a "non-congregate setting," such as a drive-through or a grab-and-go.

Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said superintendents are likely staying late Friday to try to answer numerous questions, such as how they will feed children and whether they can do online instruction in the next two weeks.

Most, however, are in favor of the move, he said.

"There are so many unknowns about this virus and the last thing a superintendent and board want to deal with is a sudden outbreak among kids in a building, and that will fly through a community so fast," DiRocco said.

The move comes a day after Wolf ordered all schools, day cares and other facilities closed in hard-hit Montgomery County, in the Philadelphia suburbs and home to more than 800,000 people, and asked residents to avoid all non-essential travel. An identical order will take effect Monday in Delaware County, home to more than 560,000 residents.

Already, more than a dozen colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, including Penn State, are shifting to online instruction and sending students home, while counties are declaring emergencies and advising people against attending large gatherings. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Friday also declared a state of emergency.

Before Wolf acted, a wave of school closings across Pennsylvania had been growing as Friday wore on, with some school officials grumbling that Wolf's administration wasn't offering more guidance.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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