Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced this morning the closure of all public schools across the state until April 17, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow across the state and world.

Reeves, in a recorded address released online, said he would sign an executive order to shutter school doors in order to encourage social distancing and give Mississippi and America’s top minds a four-week window to study the virus, its spread and its effects.

“This is not a decision that I take lightly,” Reeves said. “In fact, in my nearly 17 years of serving the public, it is perhaps the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. The reason it was such a hard decision is I know how hard it is on Mississippi families when the schools are shut down. And I also know that, honestly, if we have our children in the classroom, we’re more likely to get more learning accomplished.”

Reeves added that just because school is out, it doesn’t mean it’s time to go on vacation.

“I know our teachers and our administrators will step up during this challenging time,” he said, before announcing his order would also delay end-of-term exams.

All teachers, administrators and other school workers, he said, would be paid on time.

Reeves’ decision came on the heels of another report from the Mississippi State Department of Health, which announced 16 new confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the total number in Mississippi to 50.

The new reported cases included three in Pearl River and Harrison Counties and one new case in DeSoto, Forrest, Holmes, Jackson, Jones, Smith, Walthall, Wilkinson, Winston and Yazoo Counties.

Statewide, 21 counties have found at least one confirmed case.