Coronavirus In Ohio: Families Scrambling After State Moves To Close Schools

Mar 13, 2020

Many parents got the news they had been fearing on Thursday, that schools around the state would be shutting down due to coronavirus. Ohio's K-12 public and private schools will be closed for three weeks, effective Monday afternoon in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. 

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the move Thursday, calling it an extended spring break. He says the state government will reassess the situation at the end of those three weeks.

Some students outside of Sterling Middle School on Columbus’ West Side were excited to not have to wake up early for the next few weeks.

“I think it’s kind of insane…but, I mean it’s a virus and we can’t really do anything about it,” says 7th grader Erin Meroney. “It’s the best way to keep people from getting it.”

She’s not worried about missing school because she says she has good grades. But she mentioned that it didn’t feel like teachers or school administrators really wanted to talk about the coronavirus.

Parents had a range of reactions to the state’s decision.

“We kind of knew it was coming with all the cancellations and everything else,” says Melissa Nolan.

She’s picking up her two grandsons, and her 3-year-old grandchild was squirming in the back seat. 

She says many kids at their school rely on school lunches.

“A lot of students don’t have the resources that we have to take care of their kids,” Nolan says. “I think it’s a little soon to be calling off school but I figured it was coming.”

Coronavirus In Ohio: Live Coverage

DeWine says while COVID-19 does not pose a large risk to children, they can be carriers of the virus. Their symptoms tend to be minor in comparison to the elderly.

“Unless a child has a medical problem, the risk of death for that child is not very high,” Dewine said.At a press conference after the state announced the school closures, Columbus City Schools personnel acknowledged the confusion and need for action.

With 52,000 students spread across 127 schools, it is the largest district in the state. All its students receive free breakfast and lunch on school days. Columbus schools Chief Communications Officer Scott Wortman says the district will meet Friday to decide how to fill in that gap.

"We don't take this lightly," Wortman said. "This is an unprecedented situation, and we're working through our plans and with our community partners so we can address these types of questions when it comes to resources and facilities for our student population."

Donte Dorch waits for his daughter outside Sterling Middle School.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU

Donte Dorch was picking up his 4-year-old daughter at Sterling Middle School. He says he has already talked to his employer about taking time off to take care of her.

“I just have to call off of work, be supportive, teach her some things at home, and just try to support her the best that I can,” he says.

He’s supportive of the governor’s decision.

Another father, Sergei Parfenov, isn't sure what he'll do. He makes custom furniture for a living, and his work week can range any from 40 to 80 hours per week.

"As a small business owner, it's really hard," Parfenov says. "I have to figure out what to do with this guy right now. It's definitely a big concern."

He knows he can't bring his son to work daily, but says he'll start there and make a plan as he goes. The state health department expects the peak of the outbreak to be late April or mid-May.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.