Santa Rosa Junior College extends campus closure through end of 2020
As Sonoma County prepared to issue a new stay-at-home order that has no end date but lifts a ban on construction and eases some business restrictions, Santa Rosa Junior College announced Thursday that students would be unable to return to campus through at least December.
SRJC President Frank Chong said the Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses, which serve 22,000 students, would remain closed to most students and the vast majority of classes in its 102nd year this fall would take place online.
The college’s decision was another sign that life for county residents - especially students- will continue to be restricted, even though some activities, such as golfing and house painting, will be able to resume.
“There was a growing need from the faculty and students to know one way or the other,” Chong said. “Planning was paramount, and our faculty need time to get the professional development they need to teach distance learning at a high level.”
For the first time since the earliest cases of COVID-19 among local residents were reported in March, the number of people who have recovered from the disease, 128, exceeded in number the 114 still considered infectious, according to county data.
Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said she will be signing a new public health order Friday designed to address the profound toll isolation orders have had on the local economy by allowing some businesses deemed low-risk to operate.
In addition to construction, other operations to be permitted include retail sales at plant nurseries and florists; landscaping and gardening work; real estate showings and other activities that have yet to be announced.
“Getting people back to work is a priority,” Mase said.
The extended stay-at-home order will have no expiration date, said Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin, “so we can be responsive and flexible.”
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, during her occasional nightly Facebook update, said other activities would be allowed by the new order, such as golfing, house painting, car and bicycle sales. Pet grooming was not on the list, said Hopkins, who called the issue a “thorn in her side.”
She said the county is working on possibly opening up boat ramps for recreational fishing as early as next week.
Chong said he made the decision to continue with remote instruction through the end of the year without consulting Mase. But the move was informed by recommendations from her department, as well as guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, Chong said.
Spring graduation for more than 2,000 SRJC students will now be held May 23 online in a live video stream, Chong said. Most scheduled events on campus, including the Summer Repertory Theatre, have been canceled.
Mase said she thinks the college made the right choice.
Mase said she was doubtful she would allow K-12 schools to reopen campuses for in-person learning any time soon, despite Newsom’s suggestion earlier this week that schools could make up for lost learning by reopening as soon as late July.
“We don’t have any plans to reopen schools right away,” Mase said. “I believe it would be hard to reopen schools with social distance.”
Aggressive testing, contact investigations and other public health methods to prevent a surge of seriously ill people from overwhelming hospitals is a long-game strategy.
Thursday night, the county reported 12 more cases of COVID-19, bringing the total positive cases to 244. All told, there have been 5,850 tests conducted in the county for the virus, the vast majority negative.
Twenty-five people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been hospitalized in Sonoma County during the epidemic, according to the county. Five people with COVID-19 and another 14 people suspected to have the disease were being treated at local hospitals as of Thursday, the latest data available from the state.
Even with lower numbers of positive cases than epidemiological models predicted, Mase said people must continue limiting their activities beyond essential work, errands and exercise. Face coverings and physical distance requirements remain in place - especially in business settings.
The public health department is still building up its main strategies to prevent the virus from circulating widely in the community - primarily through widespread testing and by tracking each person with COVID-19 and anyone they might have exposed.
Mase said the county is still waiting to receive guidance from Newsom’s office on schools. But the governor does not have the authority to direct school districts when to reopen - that rests with local public health officers and school districts.