NEW YORK — New York City will close the nation’s largest public school system on Monday, sending over 1.1 million children home in hopes of curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the decision to close schools through at least April 20 and possibly for the school year, following a growing number of school closures in communities and entire states around the country and mounting pressure in New York from residents, City Council members and others.
The mayor called it a “very troubling moment, a moment when I’m just distraught at having to take this action, but I became convinced over the course of today that there is no other choice.”
He also announced that there were now five deaths in New York and that he was ordering the end of elective surgeries.
The shutdown affects the city’s nearly 1,900 public schools. Many private schools already have closed.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office had announced the city school closure moments before de Blasio, but initially said it would start as early as Tuesday.
De Blasio had been reluctant to close the school system because of the consequences for students and families. Just Saturday, the Democratic mayor said keeping schools running was critical. He worried that health care workers, first responders and other needed workers would have to stay home to care for children, and that hundreds of thousands of poor students could go hungry without their free or reduced-price school meals.
Multiple states had already announced they were closing schools. So have cities including Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
The shutdown had started to seem inevitable Sunday as de Blasio lost key support to keep schools open and Cuomo called for all downstate schools to be closed.
“For New York City, I want to close the New York City public schools,” the Democratic governor had said earlier in the day, adding he thought it prudent to do so as soon as a plan was in place to ensure that children of health care workers would be cared for.
Cuomo spoke shortly after county officials shut schools in Long Island and, across the state, in all of Erie County, including Buffalo.
Earlier, George Gresham, president of the healthcare workers union SIEU 1199, had called on de Blasio to close city schools, a step the mayor still seemed reluctant to take when he cited the union’s support for keeping the schools open as he spoke on WABC-TV earlier Sunday.
The union had previously warned that hospitals, now bracing for a flood of virus patients, could face a manpower crisis if schools closed suddenly and health care workers had to stay home with their children.
Gresham, though, said in a statement that he was now confident that a plan could be reached to provide childcare for healthcare workers through school resource centers. He also called on the city and state to provide more funding for childcare for health care workers.
“With these critical processes moving, I am now calling on Mayor de Blasio to close New York City’s public schools to help protect public health and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said in a statement.
On Sunday morning, Nassau County County Executive Laura Curran announced that schools throughout the county adjacent to New York City would be closed for at least the next two weeks. Nassau County has more than 1.3 million residents.
Later in the day, the Suffolk County executive announced that schools there would be closed as well for the next two weeks. The county executive for Westchester — just north of the city — said schools would be closed by Wednesday.
Associated Press Writer Marina Villeneuve reported from Albany.