Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has extended the closure of the state's school buildings and non-emergency day care centers through the end of April.
His previous order, made to mitigate the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, had only closed the facilities through April 6. The earliest that all schools, public and private, can now re-open is Monday, May 4, Baker said Wednesday. Only residential special education schools are exempt.
Child care centers are allowed to remain open if they care for vulnerable children and those from families of essential workers and first responders.
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Baker also ordered all grocery stories and pharmacies to set aside an hour when only seniors will be allowed to shop. They are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Baker announced the new coronavirus-related measures at a news conference on Massachusetts' response to the pandemic from the State House. At the same time, health officials announced that the state has 1,838 cases of the new coronavirus, 15 of them deadly.
The extension of the school closures, 10 days after schools were initially ordered closed, will let teachers continue developing effective remote working techniques for students, Baker said. The state is releasing an elementary and secondary learning plan Thursday.
Of the state's students, he added, "this time period provides a runway to ensure that they can complete their coursework by the end of the year in June."
Baker said his administration understands "how hard parents are working to keep their kids engaged in the learning process."
The head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association backed Baker's decision to remain closed through May 4, but withheld judgment on the state's remote learning plan.
One parent in Belmont, Danielle Coriale, said she was worried about how well she is able to follow along with her 8-year-old son's schooling, as well as his social development.
"Well, I only have one friend, but still it is pretty sad. But they said I could maybe Skype her or send a letter to her," Coriale's son said, hoping that his interview might reach the friend.
Beyond requiring at least one hour for 60-and-older-only shopping, the Department of Public Health's order for grocery stores and pharmacies mandates that the buildings have a social distancing line marked on the floor and ways to clean carts and other frequently touched objects.
The Baker administration also issued a set of orders and guidance aimed at keeping people in their homes, including guidance to suspend non-essential evictions in state-aided public housing.
Baker spoke after participating in a conference call with his new COVID-19 Advisory Group, which was announced Wednesday morning and includes recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration Chief Scott Gottlieb.
On Tuesday, Baker announced the launch of a new statewide coronavirus text message alert system. Residents who want to receive alerts can text "COVIDMA" to 888777 to sign up.
This week, Baker also ordered all non-essential businesses to close to the public for two weeks starting Tuesday and issued a stay-at-home advisory in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.