Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday ordered New Jersey schools closed until at least May 15 in an effort to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The decree covers all public and private schools, as well as colleges and universities. Murphy on March 15 ordered schools closed indefinitely.

Schools will still continue educating students “through appropriate home instruction,” per the governor’s March order.

Murphy had earlier canceled the administration of standardized tests for the year.

In a news conference, he said he was hopeful that schools may open eventually but question marks remain.

“We cannot be guided by emotion,” Murphy said. “We need to be guided by where the facts on the ground, science and public health take us.”

The governor said he has heard frequent pleas, particularly from parents of athletes and those about to graduate, to salvage part of the academic year, and that the May 15 date gives New Jersey “at least one more shot to reassess” the public health situation and possibly let students return to schools.

“Nothing would give me more joy than being able to say we’re ready to go, but we’re not there yet,” Murphy said.

All told, 3,518 New Jerseyans have died from the COVID-19 virus — more New Jerseyans than died in World War I — and 75,317 residents have tested positive for the virus. Between Tuesday at 10 p.m. and Wednesday, 362 residents of New Jersey died of the virus.

Murphy said New Jersey’s efforts to flatten the curve are working and that continued social distancing “remains the key to us flattening the curve and eventually coming down the other side of it to the point where we can responsibly begin the process of reopening our state.”

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf last week closed commonwealth schools through the end of the school year. Nationwide, 19 states have been ordered closed for the academic year; closing recommendations have been made in several other states.

Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said the announcement that schools would remain closed was no surprise.

"What I’m surprised at is that he hasn’t closed schools for the remainder of the year, frankly," Bozza said in a phone interview. “People are beginning to worry about even opening in September."

Uncertainty breeds anxiety, Bozza said.

“People are looking for as much structure as they can, he said, noting questions about how end-of-year activities like proms and graduations would work.

Steve Baker, spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association, said the union supported Murphy’s decision.

“NJEA members look forward to being back with students as soon as it is safe …. Until schools reopen, whenever that is, we remain committed to providing the best possible education and services under these current challenging circumstances,” Baker said in an email.