By Carl Corry

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has ordered all schools in the county closed, from Monday, March 16, until at least March 27, due to concerns over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“As we prepared over the last several days for the potential closure announcement, we had discussions with State officials and the Suffolk County School Superintendent’s Association about critical issues involving meal programs for kids and childcare,” Bellone said in a statement.    

“There is evidence that the virus is already present in many communities we serve, and our efforts now must be aimed at preventing its spread. As part of our larger social distancing efforts, we believe that closing schools is the right thing to do at this time,” he continued.

Bellone said that while students are home, their parents should continue to follow county health department guidance, practice social distancing and encourage frequent handwashing to help contain the spread of the virus. 

“If anyone in the family is symptomatic, please stay home and quarantine yourself on a precautionary basis,” Bellone said. 

Administrators and teachers will still have access to school buildings for local district planning, distance-based education purposes, temporary grab-and-go meal programs and childcare issues, he noted in his statement.

Sayville and Connetquot schools had previously announced plans to close on Monday, in order for teachers to prepare learning materials for some type of online learning.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a news conference Sunday, asked businesses to let non-essential workers stay home.

All non-essential New York state government workers from Rockland County and south of Rockland are to stay home, he said.

It’s complicated because essential workers — including public transportation employees, police, firefighters and hospital workers — must go to work, Cuomo said, while the meal needs of children must also be addressed.

“For many families, the schools are childcare. If you close schools, a large position of the workforce might say, ‘I need to stay home to take of my children,’” the governor said.

In the past few days, several Long Island school districts had announced they would close to students for two weeks, even with no cases of coronavirus connected to those districts.