LA, San Diego, Oakland join California school closings
LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s largest school districts announced weeks-long closures, religious faithful were urged to watch services online and just about any event that could attract even a modest crowd was canceled or postponed as the state moved broadly Friday to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The effects were big and small — and in some cases even surreal.
Freeways in and around downtown Los Angeles, normally at a standstill on a workday, were mostly clog-free. Popular restaurants were desperate for patrons, and typically crowded gyms had plenty of floor space. The phrase “social distancing” — simply, keeping away from other people to prevent the spread of the illness — was suddenly part of everyday conversation.
Jot Condie, who heads the California Restaurant Association, said some restaurants in tourist-dependent economies like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego had seen business plummet by 70 percent during the crisis.
“When the volume goes down by 70%, they are not barely turning a profit, they are hemorrhaging,” Condie said.
California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, joined many others in announcing temporarily closures. By Monday, one-third of California’s 6 million public school students will out of the classroom, as schools look to limit the health risks.
The state Senate cancelled all of its committee hearings for next week in order to focus on handling the coronavirus outbreak, although the Senate as a whole was still scheduled to meet. Meetings of the Assembly were still scheduled.
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In other states, governors announced statewide school closures. But in California Gov. Gavin Newsom and state education leaders have left the decision to local districts. The result was a patchwork of policies, with some districts taking off one or two weeks and others up to five and still others continuing a wait-and-see approach.
The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, late Friday called for the closure of all public schools.
Maryjane De La Rosa, a 16-year-old sophomore at Los Angeles’ John Marshall High School, said she wished the state’s largest district had closed schools sooner.
“I think the precautions should have been taken a long time ago,” she said, noting she has asthma and is worried about her health. She plans to stay inside this weekend, “knowing I’m safer at home.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
California has about 250 confirmed cases and recorded its sixth death Friday, a woman in her 80s from Santa Clara County. The county south of San Francisco is the hardest hit in the state, reporting a tripling of cases this week to 79. More than half were infected through so-called community transmission — in other words, the source of the infection was not known.
Santa Clara County authorities ordered that as of Saturday and for at least three weeks there will be no gatherings of more than 100 people, excluding airports, office buildings, pharmacies and medical offices.
In Oakland, nearly 2,500 passengers have headed to quarantine sites from a cruise ship that docked there Monday after passengers contracted the virus. Princess Cruises said 14 international passengers remained on the ship while waiting to be repatriated to their home countries.
Around California, there were many announcements that signaled changes in the way people go about their daily lives.
The Los Angeles Zoo closed for the remainder of the month. With restaurants taking a financial hit, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents to order home delivery. Popular supermarket Trader Joe’s said on its website it was suspending all food and beverage samples in stores.
Courts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties moved to delay trials and Contra Costs closed its courts for two weeks. Even political campaigns were forced to adapt. Republican Mike Garcia, who is running in a special election for a vacant U.S. House seat north of Los Angeles, scheduled a string of town halls where voters will join by telephone rather tan meeting him in person.
Taxpayers got more time to file; state officials moved back the deadline to file California tax returns by two months to June 15.
The widespread school closings were the most dramatic move and came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for the temporary ban of all nonessential gatherings of at least 250 people.
Disneyland will close until the end of the month, the longest closure in its history.
The school closings threatened to jeopardize their state funding, which is based on average daily attendance. But on Friday Newsom signed an executive order ensuring schools would keep their funding. The order said schools must use the money to pay employees, meals for students or educational purposes.
The Los Angeles schools will close for two weeks, although Superintendent Austin Beutner indicated at a news conference it could extend beyond that. San Diego said it would keep schools closed until April 6.
“We will see what happens,” Beutner said. “The facts and the circumstances will tell us.”
Soon after the announcement from Los Angeles and San Diego, school districts in Long Beach (72,000 students) and Oakland (37,000) said they would also close — Long Beach until April 20 and Oakland until April 5.
In Los Angeles, dozens of unionized hospitality workers applied for unemployment benefits Friday at the Hospitality Training Academy after their hours were cut.
Teresa Trejo, 46, of Inglewood, saw hours at all three of her jobs — a bartender at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Dodgers Stadium and The Forum — slashed to zero because events and games at those locations have been canceled.
“You just feel so confused because you still have your life” and bills to pay, she said before filling out her application.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez announced that Roman Catholics in the three-county region were dispensed from the obligation of attending Sunday Mass for the remaining weekends in March. The archdiocese said attendance at Mass would be limited to 250 people. A livestream of the LA cathedral service was also being made available.
Members of Saddleback Church, a megachurch with locations across Southern California, should gather in small groups to watch weekend services online, Pastor Rick Warren said in an email.
Associated Press Writers John Antczak and John Rogers in Los Angeles; Amy Taxin in Anaheim, California; Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco, Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this story.