- Associated Press - Thursday, March 12, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa’s largest school district, will cancel all classes and activities for at least 17 days starting Friday evening in the wake of a COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, Superintendent Thomas Ahart announced Thursday, even as two new cases in the state were announced.

In an letter sent to staff, Ahart noted that spring break meant classes already wouldn’t be held next week, though many events were planned during that period. Ahart expressed hope that classes could resume March 30 but given the “dynamic situation,” officials would have to adjust as needed.

“This is an extraordinary step for our school district, but this is an extraordinary time for our community, our country and the world,” Ahart said. “By taking this step, our goal is to implement preventive measures - from social distancing to additional cleaning at our schools - as well as give us more time to assess the spread of Coronavirus in Iowa and the impact it may have on our school district.”

The move will effect the district’s 33,000 students and 5,000 employees.

The shutdown was announced as news broke of two more Iowa residents testing positive for COVID-19. The two new cases, announced Thursday evening, come among a group of 21 Iowa residents who recently took a cruise in Egypt. The Iowa Department of Public Health’s announcement brings the number of COVID-19 cases in Iowa to 16.

For most people, the COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. Most people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

The school district’s decision comes as many colleges are taking similar actions.

Cedar Rapids-based Kirkwood Community College said Thursday that most, but not all, of its classes will be temporary held online amid the COVID-19 outbreak. All classes with a lecture format will not meet in person beginning March 23 through at least April 10.

The college’s announcement came one day after Iowa’s three public universities said they would suspend in-person instruction through at least April 3 and offer online classes. Drake University in Des Moines has taken similar action, and Grinnell College announced a shift to online classes for the rest of the semester.

Also Thursday, St. Ambrose University in Davenport said that it has suspended face-to-face instruction through at least March 29. It says residence halls will be closed beginning Monday, with exceptions for some students who may need to remain.

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