Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser Friday ordered all schools — including college campuses — to close starting Monday and continuing to April 3 in a precautionary move to mitigate potential spread of coronavirus, which has infected 10 Coachella Valley residents.
“This order applies to pre-schools, charter schools, private schools and all colleges and universities in Riverside County,” Kaiser said.
The doctor emphasized that he was not mandating a dismissal of schools — meaning remote learning and other forms of distance education could continue — and he lauded “those school districts that have taken proactive measures” that entailed shuttering facilities on a precautionary basis.
The Hemet, Murrieta Valley, Riverside and Temecula Valley unified school districts had already ordered closures, all of which were to begin Monday, with varying dates of prospective resumptions of classes, mostly in the first week of April.
The public health officer said all schools will tentatively be permitted to return to normal operations Monday, April 6.
UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox on Tuesday ordered the campus to be closed — with the exception of internet-based classes — and all operations to be restructured to minimize person-to-person interactions as part of a University of California system strategy to preclude viral spread. Athletic events were instructed to be “fan-less,” with no spectators.
Other local universities, community colleges and school districts were continuing with routine schedules. But Kaiser’s public health directive applies to all of them.
The resulting economic impacts were not immediately known.
“This is a difficult but necessary decision as we try to slow the spread of the virus. And I fully support it,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Manuel Perez said.
Kaiser confirmed that 10 residents — all in the Coachella Valley — were receiving treatment for COVID-19. Most are self-quarantined at home. On Thursday, there were eight confirmed cases, and officials did not disclose where or how the additional patients were identified.
Two residents aboard a cruise ship that docked in San Francisco Bay were diagnosed with the virus last month and remain in Northern California. They did not contract the illness while in Riverside County, according to health officials.
On Thursday, Kaiser issued an order barring public gatherings of 250 or more people, which followed his emergency edicts cancelling the popular Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and Stagecoach Country Music Festal, both of which are now postponed to October. The cancellations followed the voluntary suspension of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at Indian Wells, which had been scheduled to begin this week.
“These restrictions may seem harsh, given the relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Riverside County, but they are necessary if we are going to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Kaiser said. “I do not take these restrictions lightly, and clearly they will impact many in organizations and individuals in the community. We’re in this together, and I believe they’re necessary to slow and eventually stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Kaiser said the order was modeled on recommendations issued by the California Department of Public Health. More information is available at rivcoph.org/coronavirus.
At their meeting Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors formally ratified a local public health emergency declaration stemming from the coronavirus cases, directing key agencies to initiate efforts to mitigate potential impacts of the virus. The action also empowered Kaiser to issue directives intended to promote the health and welfare of residents.
“It is now considered a case of `community spread,”’ according to a Riverside University Health System statement. “Community spread involves transmission of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It indicates that the virus was not contracted through relevant travel history, or contact to a known case of COVID-19, and suggests that the virus is present in the community.”
In Riverside, a local emergency was declared by City Manager Al Zelinka, who ordered all non-essential city operations to stop until at least March 23 to lessen COVID-19 risks. No area residents have been diagnosed with the virus. Even Riverside City Hall was ordered shut down as of 5 p.m. Friday, though the council meeting will go ahead as planned Tuesday evening, and the top agenda item will be whether to ratify Zelinka’s declaration.
In Moreno Valley, officials announced postponement of all municipal events until at least the end of May, and beginning Monday, all programs at the city’s Senior Center, Main and Mall libraries will no longer be permitted to host gatherings. However, the facilities will remain open and services available, officials said.
“The evidence we’ve seen so far from other parts of the country tells us the rate of infection in our region is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez said Thursday. “We would be negligent not to take these actions.”
Frequent hand washing, social distancing and basic hygiene were emphasized as good precautionary practices against infection.