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Coronavirus Forces Adjustments

By Erika Okano, Santa Clara Weekly

Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department has issued new guidelines to deal with the spread of the novel coronavirus within the county. Those guidelines include a ban of gatherings of more than 1,000 people for the remainder of March.

“This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County. The strong measures we are taking today are designed to slow the spread of disease,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County Health Officer during a news conference on Monday. “Today’s order and new recommendations will reduce the number of people who develop severe illness and will help prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.”

While the regulations do not apply to schools and universities, except on a case by case basis, local institutions are preparing.

Mission College’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Naill Adler, says the college is receiving frequent updates and guidance from Santa Clara County Public Health as well as the district office which also manages West Valley Junior College and the State Chancellor’s Office in Sacramento.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options right now. We’re looking at what other colleges are doing both at the four-year and two-year level and seeing what’s best for our students and our faculty and our staff and our employees,” said Adler.

Mission College is dealing with campus events on a case by case basis. The college has already canceled study abroad programs because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Mission College’s Distance Education Committee, which deals with online classes, is also working on both short-term and long-term contingency plans. But Adler says the makeup of the student population may not make online study possible.

“Our students might have technology challenges at home, where a laptop or wifi is not available. We are looking out for those students as well as figuring out what is best for them,” said Adler.

On more affluent campuses like Santa Clara University (SCU), face-to-face classes have been canceled through April 13 and will be held online instead. The campus along with residence halls and dining services are still open for students who cannot go home, but the University is encouraging as many students as possible to return home.

The Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) and the Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD) will also remain open, unless county guidelines change.

SCUSD Public Information Officer Jennifer Derrico says the district has already postponed some of the larger events.

“We’d already decided last week to move our STEAM Expo from March 28 to a future date,” said Derrico via text message. “Yesterday’s announcement would have required it, if we weren’t already planning to do so.”

Last year’s STEAM Expo drew a crowd of about 3,000 people.

Meanwhile, FUHSD has canceled all school-sponsored festivals, competitions and trips until at least April 3. Events such as rallies, assemblies, dances and events where individuals traveling to the campus from outside organizations have also been canceled.

FUHSD Coordinator of Communications Rachel Zlotziver says the district is in daily contact with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

“We continue to review all events carefully so that we can make the best decisions possible to protect our students and follow the expert guidance,” said Zlotziver via email. “Because information is changing every few days if not more often, we are certainly ready to implement stricter guidance as necessary.”