I pray that this op-ed never sees the light of day. For if you are reading it, that’s bad news for Philadelphia. COVID-19 is not “fake news” and should stop being treated by city and school leaders as “no big deal.” It’s one thing for the School District of Philadelphia to drag its feet on school closings on snow days, but this is life and death.

According the New York Times on Friday morning, officials have offered dire predictions where upwards of 214 million Americans could become infected, hospitals could run out of beds for the sick, and the death toll could rise as high at 1.7 million people. These are predictions, but they do not have to become reality. One of the best ways to prevent this doomsday scenario is to greatly reduce daily contact in large groups —you know, like schools. The city has already banned gatherings of 1,000 or more and recommends cancelling meetings of 250 to 1,000. The city should take its own advice and close all the schools — not just the 63 schools with an abundance of teachers from Montgomery County (where Governor Wolf advised non-essential travel so Philly teachers who live there were forced to call out from work).

Here are my top reasons for closing all Philly schools now:

1. While most children are relatively safe so far, there are others who have asthma, issues with their immune system, and other health reasons that mean they should not be potentially exposed to the coronavirus. Just yesterday, the Inquirer reported that a Philly teacher has been in close contact with a family member known to have contracted the virus, potentially putting children and others at risk.

2. Encountering children who may have the been exposed to the virus puts parents, grandparents, teachers, school staff, and others who are in the most vulnerable groups at risk.

3. Many children use SEPTA trains, trolleys, and buses each day during the morning rush hour. Need I say more?

4. The District has not used snow days this year, so schools can make up missed time at the end of the semester.

5. The NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA, Disneyland, and others have all made significant and historic changes to their scheduling. Schools are closed in the states of Michigan, Maryland, and Ohio. Why should we be different? Do we know something they don’t know?

6. And let’s not forget that the Philly School District ordered alcohol-free hand sanitizer that does not meet the guidelines of the CDC, according to the teachers’ union. Yet, we are to trust that the SDP has this all under control? I’m having flashbacks from asbestos-filled buildings in the not so distant past.

Some will say that closing the schools places a hardship on families who rely upon them for the basics like a daily meal. We don’t have to choose one or the other. We can — and must — do both. Norristown officials have said they’re working on plans to make food available and on Thursday night, handed out food to many families. Surely, Philadelphia can do the same.

We must close the schools while we still have time, for the adage is right that you can’t close the barn door after the cow has gotten away. Simply put, changing behavior saves lives. If you agree that the schools must be closed now, sign this online petition and let your voice be heard.

Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, Ph.D. is a Philadelphia School District parent and Senior Pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church.