Shelli Dehut passes out free lunches to students at HOover Elementary School on March 16, 2020, the first day of a statewide public school closure. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

NOTE: Salem Reporter is providing free access to its content related to the coronavirus as a community service. Subscriptions starting at $5 a month help support this.

SALEM – Oregon schools will remain closed through the end of April, extending by a month the original closure ordered last week by Gov. Kate Brown.

“We must act now to flatten the curve and slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Oregon. Otherwise, we face a higher strain on our medical system and greater loss of life to this disease,” Brown said in a Tuesday evening announcement.

Public schools, which were scheduled to open April 1, are now closed until April 28. The order affects about 580,000 students statewide. About 41,000 students attend schools in the Salem-Keizer School District, which said it distributed about 4,000 prepared meals on Tuesday, March 17.

“School districts may call on public school educators and employees to deliver limited learning and support services,” her statement said.

She said she expected the state’s school districts to continue providing meals and child care.

“This includes the delivery of food assistance and offering child care for essential health care professionals and first responders,” the statement said.

The governor also said that “each district will pay their regular employees during the closure.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, Jim Green, the executive director of the Oregon Schools Boards Association said, “This is a new reality for all of us, and we appreciate that the governor and her staff are acting quickly against a moving target. What we are working on in the short term is figuring out ways to deliver learning to kids remotely, and in many cases ensuring that they are being fed. We’re going to get through this, but in the meantime we’ve got dozens of questions to get sorted out and 581,000 students to take care of.”

And this from John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, the union representing teachers: “OEA supports Governor Brown’s decision to safeguard the health of students and educators by extending the closure period of Oregon’s public schools. We also commend the governor for her commitment to maintaining vital nutrition and mental health services for our students, and for directing districts to ensure all school employees are paid during these closures.”

Brown earlier in the day tightened restrictions on nursing homes, residential care facilities and other licensed facilities, barring all visitors. There are about 30,000 Oregonians in such living circumstances.