MANCHESTER, NH – City schools will be closed for two weeks as of March 16 in response to growing concerns around the threat of transmission of novel coronavirus disease to the school population.
Schools will remain closed at least until March 27 at which time the city’s Emergency Operations Team will reevaluate the situation, said Dr. John Goldhardt during Saturday’s news conference at Central Fire Station.
Goldhardt said the decision was made due to “compelling” information, citing a case of “community transmission” in a woman who has been diagnosed as presumptive positive for COVID-19. The woman was working at the Department of Motor Vehicles in early March, which is located in Manchester. That information was announced late Friday by the state Department of Health.
“None of us have all the answers, but the best we can do is support one another and look for healthy ways to face life’s difficult times,” Goldhardt said of the difficult decision to close schools.
The rest of the weekend would be spent working out details with the goal of launching remote learning on Tuesday, Goldhardt said. That will include a mix of online and paper instruction. District school buses will be used to deliver meals to bus stops. Any area without a bus stop will have a designated drop off point, to be announced.
“We will make use of staff, paras, City Year folks. It will take a lot of effort, and if needed, we’ll put the call out for help from the community. I’m feeling this is going to be a whole new world. But at the same time it’s forcing us to look at our infrastructure needs for next year, what I like to call a growth experience,” Goldhardt said.
Information will be disseminated across many avenues, including Nixle, the district’s website and Facebook.
Any parent with concerns or issues around child care during the next two weeks that school is canceled should reach out to their school principals, or call the district office, Goldhardt said. “The ones I worry most about are those K-through-third-grade students, who might be left unsupervised,” Goldhardt said.
Mayor Craig said that the question of how school staff will be paid is still being discussed, and any decision requires a vote by the Board of Aldermen – she also noted that the March 17 Board of Aldermen meeting is postponed as the city works out a way to have remote meetings.
Goldhardt said teachers will still be teaching, correcting work and checking in with students. “They may be doing it by telephone or by Skype, but they will be staying in touch with students,” Goldhardt said. Other supplemental staff, including custodians, secretarial and para-professionals, will also have roles to play over the next two weeks.
The Cashin Senior Center is also closed, however, the city libraries will remain open but programming and classes are canceled.
At-Large Alderman Dan O’Neill attended the news conference, as did School Board Vice-Chair Leslie Want and At-Large BOSC member Jim O’Connell.
“We’ve been through weather disasters, but never anything like this,” O’Neill said. “But I feel proud of the city and district employees, and it all starts with Mayor Craig, to see how everyone is working together to keep the community safe.”
Craig said that anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever of 100.4 degrees F or higher, shortness of breath or cough, should call their doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, they should call the city’s hotline at 603-668-1547 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. over the weekend.
Fire Chief Dan Goonan said that operations will remain consistent with the city’s emergency plan, and first-responders will continue to take precautions to remain safe.
City Health Director Anna Thomas said the origin of the case with Manchester ties announced Friday night is still under investigation, and the source of the COVID-19 has yet to be determined. “It’s just speculation at this point. They still need some sort of confirmation about the particulars of that case, but the city is a big and busy place, and so we want to do what we can to get ahead of it,” Thomas said.
The previous six cases diagnosed were all traceable to someone who had traveled outside the country.
Craig said that as challenging as this situation is, community partners including the NH Food Bank, Southern NH University and other non-profits have stepped up.
You can watch the press conference below via Manchester Ink Link’s Facebook live: