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McMahon declares state of emergency for Onondaga County, orders school closures

SYRACUSE, N.Y. —  Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon on Saturday afternoon declared a state of emergency for the county and ordered its public schools to close by the end of the coming week.

The county’s schools are set to close Friday, March 20, at 4 p.m., will remain shuttered until after spring break, and will reopen April 14.

If Onondaga County gets a confirmed case of coronavirus, or COVID-19 before then, the schools would then close on Wednesday, March 18.


“Furthermore, as of [Saturday], all nonessential school activities are cancelled, including athletics, field trips, and extra-curricular activities,”  McMahon said in a news conference.

He also noted that any parent who wants to keep their kid(s) home, starting Monday, can keep their children home with them and “not have any repercussion on attendance.”

Following the county executive’s announcement, some public school districts in the county announced they would be closing immediately, effective this Monday. The districts include Fayetteville-Manlius, Jordan-Elbridge, and Skaneateles.

As of late Saturday afternoon, Onondaga County didn’t have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus, the Onondaga County executive said. He said 26 tests for the virus had come back negative.

Decision explained

The time in schools this week will give the respective administrations in each district the ability to plan, according to McMahon.

“We can’t just look at the process and just say we’re going to shut everything down. It’s not that simple. There’s process that everybody needs to look at,” McMahon told reporters.

For many children throughout Onondaga County, McMahon noted, the only meals that officials can guarantee that they get every day is breakfast and lunch.

“We can’t guarantee that they’re getting dinner,” he added. “As the county executive and [for Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh], our responsibility is to our community’s most vulnerable.”

Officials have plenty of factors to consider when deciding to close schools, according to McMahon.

“You have to look at virtual learning for the educators in each building. You have to look at child care for working parents,” he said.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said that he “fully” supports the decision, one that was made “collectively.”

“This gives us time to plan and to prepare,” Walsh said in his remarks. “We need to use the time that we have effectively … For some families, it’s easy to pivot and to change plans based on what happens with your children’s schedules. For many, it’s not.

One of the biggest impacts that officials are looking at before the county has a case of COVID-19 is the impact on the local health-care system.

“Many of our parents, who have children in our school districts throughout the county work at our hospitals. They work at our nursing homes. These are our front-line heroes in the event we need to address the COVID-19 virus,” said McMahon.

To have them at home without making good plans could be “detrimental” on the local medical infrastructure, he added.

The state of emergency allows county officials to “look at the data on the ground as we get data in from [Onondaga County Health Commissioner] Dr. [Indu] Gupta and her teams to make other informed decisions related to social distancing,” McMahon told reporters.

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