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Santa Rosa Junior College among schools suspending classes amid coronavirus concerns

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How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Santa Rosa Junior College announced Thursday it would be temporarily suspending all classes, events and in-person services through Sunday, shutting Sonoma County’s most populous school to students as campuses across the nation take similar measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision came a day after Sonoma State University announced its own temporary closure and a day before both SRJC, SSU and most of the county’s K-12 schools, serving roughly 70,000 students, are set to pivot to spring break next week.

SRJC President Frank Chong said the closure would apply to both of the community college’s campuses, in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, with enrollment last semester of more than 22,000 students.

Chong said the decision was informed by a coronavirus task force at SRJC that has met daily to review the latest guidance from local, state and federal authorities.

Ultimately, Chong said, it was his call to suspend classes.

“It’s hard to make these decisions,” Chong said. “But from day one, we’ve been following protocols we used during the (Kincade) fire … and meeting every day to see what’s changed.”

School administrators across Sonoma County said they plan to use the upcoming spring break to plan for any potential extended closure amid the widening global pandemic.

“I can feel the stress around the campus, so spring break is a welcome opportunity to catch our breath,” Chong said.

The county’s primary and secondary schools, meanwhile, are trying to get the word out to parents and students about how they intend to safeguard against wider outbreak of the coronavirus.

In a letter Tuesday, Santa Rosa City Schools said it would be placing students on short-term independent study if they had traveled over the past two weeks to China, Iran, Italy or South Korea.

Students or staff that have come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus or is showing symptoms, including a fever over 100 degrees, shortness of breath or a persistent cough, also will be barred from campus, district officials said.

The district, the largest in the county, authorized a minimum-day schedule for its middle and high schools Friday to provide staff members time to start crafting lesson plans for any potential closures following spring break, said Santa Rosa Teachers Association president Will Lyon.

Santa Rosa elementary schools will operate under a normal schedule Friday.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult spring as we figure out how we’re going to manage what happens,” said Santa Rosa Superintendent Diann Kitamura.

Districts are taking their marching orders from the Sonoma County Office of Education, which on Thursday advised local administrators to begin rescheduling and canceling extracurricular activities, including dances, field trips and theater productions.

The county office also recommended social distancing practices to keep children and teachers a minimum of 30 inches apart, and to wipe down every surface after a student uses it.

Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steven Herrington was wary of extended closures because it would impact the more than 31,320 students who rely on their schools for up to two meals a day.

“They’ll lose that,” he said. “And if you do put schools on quarantine, the students are supposed to stay home. But if they’re out socializing, what does that accomplish?”

How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Gary Callahan said his district has received state clearance to install remote meal services throughout the city if students are doing coursework from home during any school closure.

In a letter to Petaluma families Thursday, Callahan announced the cancellation or postponement of all district-related gatherings through April 30, and also said spring athletics were being reviewed by the North Coast Section officials.

“We’re moving from a phase of containment into community mitigation,” Callahan said. “We still know so little about how pervasive this has spread in our community.”

The coronavirus caseload in Sonoma County remained unchanged Thursday, with three confirmed patients at least two of which were being treated at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

Meanwhile, families are scrambling to find a way to occupy their children’s free time as numerous events, activities and destinations announce or mull cancellations or closures.

The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County will be shuttered for the remainder of March starting Friday, said board president Jenny Levine-Smith. The closure affected its popular Spring Wonder Days Camps, which offer science, technology and math-related activities for children ages 5-8.

“Spring break is a busy time for us and a great resource for families that need coverage,” Levine-Smith said. “But we thought this was the right thing to do. There’s too much at stake here.”

Other places, including the Epicenter sports and arcade complex in Santa Rosa, plan to remain open. Current social distancing protocols and public gathering restrictions don’t bar regular business, said Brad Bergum, controller of the popular entertainment complex.

The Sonoma County Department of Health Services inspected Epicenter and affiliated Sports City Cotati earlier this week and approved its safety measures, Bergum said. The foam pit and children’s jungle gym will be temporarily closed.

“We’re fine to be open but we’re just taking heightened precautions for the safety of our guests,” Bergum said. “This is all new territory for us.”

Sonoma State’s announcement Wednesday covered in-person classes for the rest of the week and the Monday after spring break — March 23 — with preparations underway to switch to virtual classes following the break.

SSU also canceled all nonessential travel. While students and faculty said they understood the need for such a measure, some were still devastated by it.

SSU political science professor Cynthia Boaz, who teaches the Model United Nations course, was forced to tell her 33 students Thursday that their weeklong trip later this month to New York City for the annual international conference featuring 450 participating schools was called off.

“Obviously, there’s no one to blame — this is the circumstance. But it’s really tragic,” Boaz said. “To participate in this international conference — it’s literally the highlight of their college careers. They spend almost an entire year preparing for it.”

Many of her students come from low-income families and have been saving up for this trip for months, she said. The trip cost up to $50,000 for the group, including flights, hotel stays and ground transportation. Students each had to pay a $500 fee to sign up for the class, some of which goes towards the trip’s expenses, and many also did fundraising for the excursion.

While Boaz said the university is working to refund students for the trip, JetBlue airline and Hotel Sheraton are so far refusing to provide any refunds.

“I understand why they’re hesitating to issue refunds because we are in pandemic circumstances and this is potentially devastating to these industries,” Boaz said. “But I also think that we have to be humane in terms of how we treat customers and, in this case, students, you know?”

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