Editorial: Close theaters, restrict malls to protect kids

The Detroit News

There's no point turning out schools for a month to protect children from getting or spreading the COVID-19 virus if they're going to spend their free time gathering in other places outside their homes.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the three-week public school closing order Thursday as a prudent step to contain the novel coronavirus. It's the right call. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a Friday press conference with Michigan State Police Capt. Emmitt McGowan, center, and State Department of Military Affairs Gen. Paul Rogers, along with others, speaks on the coronavirus COVID-19 response.

But we can't assume students will sit safely at home while they wait for classes to resume. They and their parents will be looking for other things to do.

For the closure to be effective, the governor should urge movie theaters, shopping malls, bowling alleys, entertainment centers and other venues that attract children to either close or adopt restrictions aimed at making sure the school closure order works as intended.

Movie theaters and the other places where children congregate should either shut down for the duration of the school closure or ban school-aged children from entering. Shopping malls can't close, but they can ban unaccompanied minors from loitering in their centers.

Fighting COVID-19 requires a multi-layered response. Ideally, time in public places should be limited, and not just for children. That's why the public event and school closures make sense. 

Many community recreational centers already recognize the risk and are closing to match the school shut-down. Private facilities should do the same. 

Meanwhile, schools should provide rigorous lesson plans and homework assignments to students to complete at home to cut down on their free time. Parents should insist that their children stay home as much as possible, where they can focus on continuing their learning and avoiding group activities.

Shutting schools is a serious step, and one that reflects the public danger from COVID-19.

It should not be undermined by simply shifting children from one place to another.