Sonoma County grapples with widening fallout from coronavirus pandemic
The drumbeat of cancellations and postponements that convulsed the nation starting Wednesday night over the coronavirus pandemic picked up tempo and volume Thursday, echoing from halls of the nation’s largest sports leagues to Wall Street, Wine Country performance venues and school campuses across the North Coast.
In a breathtaking span of just over 24 hours, the country’s borders had been ordered barred to most European travelers, starting Friday, as pro basketball, baseball and hockey leagues shelved their seasons, college hoops’ March Madness extravaganza was canceled, Disneyland said it would shut its gates in Anaheim and the U.S. stock market saw its biggest crash since 1987.
Politico branded it “the Great American Shutdown.”
In Sonoma County, the reverberations included a litany of concert halls, museums and local governments announcing plans Thursday to cancel or postpone events and programs. The tremors were almost indiscriminate, scuttling picnic reservations in Santa Rosa city parks, ending visitor contact with inmates at the Sonoma County Jail and scrubbing all events and performances at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, the Green Music Center and the Sonoma County Library until April.
The disruptions caused by the new coronavirus - and meant to guard against COVID-19, the respiratory disease that has killed nearly 5,000 worldwide - now extend to both of Sonoma County’s two public colleges and could soon alter campus life across the county’s public K-12 system, in total affecting more than 100,000 students.
Employers large and small, public and private, are implementing or considering their own preventative measures, including bans on nonessential travel and orders that would have thousands of employees work from home to prevent the spread of the virus.
Altogether, the upheaval appears to carry enough commercial and civic weight to shake the foundations of daily life in a way that even disaster-wracked Sonoma County and the wider North Coast have not seen in generations.
“We’re experiencing something most Americans have never experienced,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Sonoma County’s senior congressman. “This pandemic has hit us very hard, and it’s going to take some time to work through it.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 132,000 ?people worldwide, and it is surging in the United States, with confirmed cases at more than 1,600, up by a third in the past two days. As Sonoma County ramps up testing, leaders here have yet to confirm any community spread, an inflection point that would trigger a dramatic shift in the county’s response.
The three Sonoma County patients confirmed to have the virus remained in isolation Thursday night at hospitals in Santa Rosa, a Department of Health Services spokesman said. All were passengers on virus-hit cruise ships.
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins joined Thompson in critiquing the federal government’s slow response, including the dearth of test kits for the disease. She said the county may soon see evidence of community spread as testing results come back.
“It feels like there is this unseen enemy replicating in our community, and we don’t know where it is,” Hopkins said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidance late Wednesday advising against even small gatherings of people set in motion Thursday the wave of local and statewide postponements and cancellations.
“We have agency. We can change the future,” Newsom said Thursday, urging Californians to fundamentally alter their behavior in order to halt the virus’ spread. “It is the sum total of our individual decisions that will determine the fate of this virus … I have confidence we’ll meet the moment.”
Local social justice advocates said the fallout is happening and will be widely felt.
Far too many people don’t have the resources to withstand the upheaval, to keep up with rent or the mortgage, stock the pantry with food or meet other basic needs, said Susan Shaw, executive director of the North Bay Organizing Project.
Shaw said local agencies must ensure people living paycheck to paycheck who fall ill can get tested and treated for free. They need protections against evictions and power shut-offs when they miss rent and utility payments, she added.
“It feels extremely profound because it’s affecting everyone,” Shaw said. “But of course it’s affecting hourly workers, low-wage workers, immigrants, seniors and people with existing conditions in a much bigger way.”
When schools and other child care institutions close, low-wage working parents with young children may be forced to make tough decisions about how to ensure their care while still going to work, said Marty Bennett, with Unite Here Local 2850 that represents hotel, gaming and restaurant workers.