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Municipal leaders urge Baker to close schools statewide to slow coronavirus outbreak

So far, Baker has let Massachusetts 351 cities and towns make their own decisions.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker addresses the press regarding the state response to the coronavirus pandemic outside of City Hall in Pittsfield Thursday.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker addresses the press regarding the state response to the coronavirus pandemic outside of City Hall in Pittsfield Thursday.Ben Garver/Associated Press

Nearly two dozen municipal leaders in Metropolitan Boston sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker Thursday urging him to close all schools in Massachusetts and shutter other buildings where people congregate to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Baker has let Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns make their own decisions about whether to keep schools open in the face of the growing pandemic. While dozens of municipalities have closed schools, the majority have not, including the state’s largest school system in Boston.

“We feel strongly that if each municipality is left to respond to the crisis on their own, this ad hoc response will generate panic and confusion among our residents," reads the letter signed by 22 mayors and city managers. “Consistent with guidance received from infectious disease specialists and medical experts, we therefore encourage you to take immediate action to close schools and other buildings, both public and private, where people congregate in close proximity.”

Leaders who signed the letter include Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett, Cambridge City Manager Lou DePasquale, Brookline Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, Mayor Joe Curtatone of Somerville, and many more.

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“At the local level, we have leaders around the commonwealth who are stepping up,” Curtatone said in an interview. “To achieve effective social distancing, we are not going to be able to do it on our own. We need leadership from the Commonwealth. We need bold, decisive action now. We needed it yesterday.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh did not sign the letter and announced Friday morning that Boston Public Schools would be open Monday. But Walsh pledged that on Sunday he would be “laying out a plan for if we have to close the schools and also how we’re going to be moving forward next week and beyond.”

The city did close the three North End campuses of the Eliot K-8 Innovation School for a week because of a presumptive positive case of coronavirus in a “non-student member of the school community,” Boston Public Schools said in a series of tweets Wednesday night.

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The municipal leaders sent the letter after a presentation Thursday by infection disease experts that included Dr. Paul Biddinger, director of the MGH Center for Disaster Medicine and the Director for Emergency Preparedness at Partners Healthcare. Slides from the presentation detailed the widespread impact of coronavirus in China and Italy and projected potential for as many as a 1,000 cases in Massachusetts by the end of the month.

“We are eager to partner with you to reduce complications and fatality rates associated with the spread of the virus,” the letter to Baker concluded. “We are poised to take immediate regional action such as closing our schools, but we are urging you to take continued leadership at the state level.”



Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.