Gov. Lee urges statewide school closure through end of March

Posted at 9:56 AM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 21:51:01-04

(WTVF) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is urging a statewide school closure amid COVID-19 concerns.

In a statement released Monday morning, Lee said all schools are expected to close by Friday, March 20 at the latest and remain closed through March 31. He added that after March 31, state officials would discuss if the time should be extended.

Marshall, Macon and Bedford County Schools were open on Monday morning. Maury County Schools did not have students in class on Monday due to a teacher development day, but the district has not officials closed for the week.

Bedford and Macon County Schools later announced the districts will close beginning Tuesday, March 17 through March 31. Marshall County Schools will also close Tuesday until April 3.

Many other districts are on spring break or an extended break due to coronavirus concerns. NewsChannel 5 has an updated list of schools that are closed here.

Read Gov. Lee's full statement below:

As the response to COVID-19 evolves, I urge every school district in Tennessee to close as soon as practically possible, with all schools expected to close by Friday, March 20, 2020 at the latest. Schools should remain closed through March 31, 2020 to further mitigate the spread of this infectious disease and we will issue further guidance prior to March 31. Superintendents and local leadership have the full support of my administration to determine effective dates for closure this week as they evaluate what is best for families within their respective districts. We understand the tremendous burden school closure places on families and we will continue to work with both the federal government and school districts to ensure we continue essential supports like meals for students in need. Every Tennessean has a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and I urge Tennesseans to be quick to help neighbors as new needs surface with the closure of schools.

The decision was supported by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown.

Gov. Lee held a press conference later in the day updating the ongoing efforts surrounding the outbreak including his above request.

He addressed the concern of many throughout the state of students going without meals due to schools being out.

"We know that closing a school has a significant impact on families all across Tennessee," Lee said.

He reassured concerned parents or teachers, saying thanks to a waiver program that would help provide meals for students on free and reduced lunch.

"We are working directly with the federal government and our Department of to make sure we receive waivers - and we have been given assurances that we will receive those waivers - that allow our low-income students to continue to receive meals as they would be if they were going to school," said Lee. "We want to assure families that when a school closes, if their child qualified for lunch in that school, then they will continue to receive those lunches, and we will be distributing those lunches to those families. It's undefined yet exactly how that will happen. Some districts are already doing it and providing a model for that but we will provide students for them when their schools close," said. Lee.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.