NEW BEDFORD —In a sudden turnaround, New Bedford Superintendent of Schools Thomas Anderson announced after the close of business Friday that the city's public schools will close for at least one week in the midst of coronavirus concerns.

The schools will be closed Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 20, and schools are currently scheduled to reopen on Monday, March, 23, 2020, Anderson announced in a 5:03 p.m. press release.

"This action is being taken after close consultation with all other school districts in our region and across Massachusetts, the Mayor’s office and City officials," the superintendent wrote.

Only hours earlier, at a press conference organized by the office of Mayor Jon Mitchell, Anderson had insisted that the schools would stay open for now while officials took steps to clean the facilities, evaluate the need for large gatherings, and prepare for the possibility of future remote learning.

At the 11 a.m. press conference, Mitchell declared a city-wide state of emergency to respond to the global coronavirus pandemic. While there are no confirmed cases in New Bedford at this time, the arrival of COVID-19 is inevitable, said Mitchell, who outlined steps taken on the city side to "flatten the curve" and slow the spread of the viral disease.

As for the schools, "as of right now we're still in session as we plan to be, but I wanted to ease some of the concerns that parents might have," Anderson mid-day Friday.

Anderson followed up after the event by sharing a letter he had sent to the school community explaining his choice to keep the schools open. The school department "is presently monitoring all future school events with large crowd gatherings," Anderson reiterated following his public appearance.

But hours later, Anderson announced that "the likelihood of mass absenteeism has increased significantly since the City of New Bedford’s announcement earlier this morning" due to school closures across the region.

Anderson added that "the New Bedford Public Schools will ensure that students’ learning remains a priority during the city’s state of emergency."

He said the school system "encourages students to make every effort to continue their learning by reading as much as possible" and that the last day of school will be adjusted to June 24.

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