New York City will close the largest public school system in the US on Monday, sending over 1.1 million children home in hopes of curbing the spread of coronavirus, the city’s mayor announced.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the decision to close schools until at least April 20 - and possibly for the school year - as similar closures occurred in entire states nationwide and pressure mounted from New York residents, city council members and others.
He added: "I have no words for how horrible it is, but it has become necessary.
"As of now, school is cancelled for tomorrow."
New York City is not the only city to be affected by the outbreak of the virus, as Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC announced they were closing schools.
The governors in five states - California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington - said they were closing bars and restaurants in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and "entertainment venues", from midnight Sunday until at least March 31.
Hours later, Mr de Blasio took aim at New York city's nightlife and restaurants, and said he would sign an Executive Order on Monday, limiting the restaurants, bars and cafes to takeout and delivery only.
He said: "Our lives are all changing in ways that were unimaginable just a week ago. We are taking a series of actions that we never would have taken otherwise in an effort to save the lives of loved ones and our neighbors.
"Now it is time to take yet another drastic step."
The order, which would take effect on Tuesday, would also shut down all nightclubs, cinemas and concert venues.
He said it was not a decision he had "made lightly" but he said New York had to respond with a "wartime mentality".
New York City's death toll from coronavirus had risen to five and the number of infected residents multiplied.
Mr de Blasio had, for days, said that closing schools was a last resort.
Just on Saturday, the Democratic mayor said keeping schools running was critical.
He worried that health care workers and first responders would have to stay home to care for children, and that hundreds of thousands of students could go without their free or reduced-price school meals.
He also expressed doubt that a temporary closure of just a few weeks would be effective in slowing the spread of the virus.
But the shutdown had started to seem inevitable on Sunday as Mr de Blasio lost key support to keep schools open and governor Andrew Cuomo called for all downstate schools to be closed.
County officials have said schools will shut as well on Long Island, in Erie County, including Buffalo, and in Westchester County.
The decision, late on a Sunday, put parents in a position of trying to arrange alternative childcare arrangements with little notice.
The school system, officials said, would attempt to quickly launch a “remote learning” programme a week from Monday, with teachers being trained on the methods beginning on Tuesday.
“They have been working on a wartime footing to prepare it,” Mr de Blasio said of administrators.
He also announced the city will open centres for the children of health care and emergency workers.
The shutdown affects the city’s nearly 1,900 public schools.
School closure is part of a strategy of trying to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing — having people stay away from each other, and especially avoid large groups.
Mr Cuomo had previously ordered an end to gatherings of 500 people or more, darkening Broadway theatres, sports arenas and concert halls. Most major museums in the city have been closing down.
“We’ve never been through anything like this,” Mr de Blasio said. “Everyone is confused. Everyone is in pain.”
He said the city would get through it through everyone “looking out for each other”.
Schools chancellor Richard Carranza called it “a very sobering day for all of us” and said the decision was made after a situation that’s been evolving and been monitored “day by day, hour by hour and in some cases, minute by minute”.