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Bucks County residents react to coronavirus school closures

Tamanend Middle School student Brianna Muntz, 14,  uses a disposable hand wipe as she plays with friends on the Titus Elementary School playground. Both schools were closed, along with three others in Central Bucks County, as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Tamanend Middle School student Brianna Muntz, 14, uses a disposable hand wipe as she plays with friends on the Titus Elementary School playground. Both schools were closed, along with three others in Central Bucks County, as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The mood outside F.D. Titus Elementary School Friday morning was buoyant — even if the inside was barren.

About a dozen children raced around the school playground and preened for an assembly of reporters. COVID-19 may be on the minds of administrators in the Central Bucks School District, but, for these kids, the viral scare seemed less important than an unexpected day off.

Children gather on the playground at Titus Elementary School, playing and talking to news reporters about the threat of the virus that shut down their school and four others in Central Bucks County. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“No math today,” exclaimed one child.

Added another: “They might move the test back!”

F.D. Titus — located in Warrington, Pa. — was one of five schools shuttered Friday by administrators in Pennsylvania’s third-largest school district.

Titus Elementary School in Warrington, Pa. and four other schools in central Bucks County, were shut down Friday, March 6, 2020, as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Officials said staff and children from the five closed schools had attended a “private gathering” with a person who has since been diagnosed with COVID-19. Neither the patient nor those affiliated with Central Bucks knew about the illness when the gathering took place.

Administrators decided to close the schools Friday “out of an abundance of caution.” There’s no word yet on when the schools might reopen or if further closures are under consideration. The district’s other 18 schools were not affected. There are also no reports, to date, of a confirmed COVID-19 case in Bucks County.

Quinlyn Rolland, 13, (center) and her friends from Tamanend Middle School gather at the Titus Elementary School playground. Both schools and three others in Central Bucks County were closed because of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The sudden school closures may offer a  taste of what’s to come if COVID-19 spreads widely across the Delaware Valley.

Thirteen countries have closed their schools in an effort to combat the disease, leaving 290 million children out of class, according to the United Nations. Another nine countries have seen localized closures, including in the United States. A large school district north of Seattle has already announced it will close for up to 14 days.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf confirmed the first two presumptive cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania — one in Delaware County, another in Wayne County in the northeast corner of the state.

Alarm bells aren’t ringing quite that loudly yet for residents of central Bucks.

Outside a CVS in downtown Doylestown, hairdresser Jessica Robertson said she supported administration’s decision to act cautiously. Though Robertson’s daughter attends a school that remained open, she briefly considered keeping her home.

Salon worker Jessica Robertson leaves the CVS in Doylestown, where hand sanitizer was out of stock. Although her daughter’s school was not affected, she agreed with the district’s decision to close five schools to guard against the spread of COVID-19. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Kids are vulnerable,” Robertson said. “I think it’s important to be smart and safe.”

Robertson said the local drugstores and Walmart were all out of hand sanitizer, making it difficult for families to prepare.

On the other end of the spectrum was shopper Pam Venuto, who felt the school-closing decision was too much. “It just seems like the whole thing is being blown out of proportion,” she said.

Nancy Dischert felt that closing five Central Bucks County schools to guard against the spread of COVID-19 was the right choice. ‘We can’t take a chance,’ she said. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Nancy Dischert fell somewhere in the middle. Given what the public knows about the situation in Central Bucks, Dischert felt the district made the right call.

“[But] if we’re overcautious we’re going to create a panic,” she added.

Dischert says she’s “a handwasher” by nature, and would urge her neighbors to be vigilant.

“We can’t depend on the government to do this for us,” she said. “We have to do it for ourselves. That’s pretty much the way I’m looking at it.”

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