Spread of COVID-19 results in school closures, local state of emergency

Santa Clara to provide services to seniors, essential services and utilities; while HHS to transition to close school, transition to online learning

Santa Clara County faces an increasing number of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases each day, with a confirmed 196 cases and eight deaths as of March 19, according to Santa Clara County Public Health. To slow the spread of the virus, the city of Santa Clara declared a local state of emergency, which included the closure of libraries and the cancellation of large events, according to Kron4 News.

Santa Clara city mayor Lisa M. Gillmor said in a phone interview she believes COVID-19 will get worse before it gets better and the city is taking very aggressive steps early on to stop the spread of the virus. 

Infographic by Shruti Magesh

“We’re trying to do what we can to protect our residents.  I don’t think anybody’s experienced anything like this,” Gillmor said. “And so we are just going … further than the state, the federal government, the county … we’re being very aggressive.” 

The city plans to focus on essential services including police, the fire department, public safety and health services and water and sewer utilities, Gillmor said. 

“We own our own electric utility in Santa Clara called Silicon Valley Power, so we’re making sure that all the lights are on [and] all the water is running,” Gillmor said. “We have made sure that we will not turn off anyone’s electricity or water or sewer for lack of payment.”

FUHSD director of communications Rachel Zlotziver said in an email that schools are also considered essential services, and will plan to implement distance learning as well as remain open for food service. 

“Many of our staff members are now working remotely to ensure that we are following all the guidelines around gathering in groups and social distancing,” Zlotziver said.

Principal Greg Giglio, in accordance with the county’s restrictions on events, said in an email, that HHS has cancelled all school events through April 10. 

“Everything is definitely cancelled through April 10, everything else [after April 10] is on hold for the time being,” Giglio said. “But with the new small group restrictions, I don’t see how any of this is possible.  We will wait and see but I would not be hopeful about these events.”

Giglio also said that with the closure of schools, the HHS campus remains closed to visitors, as well. However, essential workers such as custodians, cafeteria workers, office staff and administrators will remain on campus. 

“People do come to campus to get food or pick up items, but this is really meant to be a grab and go situation.  The fields are closed. We are switching to a remote learning system and teachers will be making contact with students and families this week as to how to proceed.  Our new bell schedule starts Monday,” Giglio said. “If you need information, please email as all staff are working, but may not be on campus. If you need to meet with one of us who are on campus, please set up an appointment to do so.”

The city of Santa Clara is additionally ensuring that the susceptible population and seniors have services available to them and are fed, Gillmor said. 

“We still have lunches being served at the senior center every day. They can either get their lunches delivered or they can come in and pick them up,” Gilmore said. “And then we have wellness checks, we have people calling our seniors and checking on them … because during something like this, people can get very isolated.”

Another concern for the city revolves around supplementing food to students and their families and being able to distribute it. Gillmor said the city is currently working on a plan to potentially activate the convention center as a food service area, since they have staff on hand there. 

“At our convention center, we have a food supply available. We have the ability to prepare food, and we have the facility to distribute it,” Gillmor said. “So that’s our most current thing because with people secluded at home, and possibly, not being able to go to their jobs and they are home with their families, we’re worried that they don’t have enough food to take them through the crisis.”

Similarly, at the FUHSD schools and additional locations, complimentary food packages are available for pick up. The meal packages include brunch and lunch, and are being distributed by cafeteria staff.

Gilgio said accommodations for those who may not have internet access or computers were scheduled prior to the school closure. The district passed out a one-question survey in all the English classes to see which students would require a computer, internet access or both, Giglio said. 

“We checked out about 80 Chromebooks to students and have given about 30 personal hotspots, or encourage folks to get the free or reduced packages that cable companies are offering right now,” Giglio said. “If a student still has a need, they can email their teacher, a counselor, admin or anyone on our campus.”

With the uncertainty of the virus, Gillmor said the situation has the potential to change by the hour and respective arrangements must be made in accordance with the situation. 

Similarly, with the school closures, Giglio said the school will continue to wait for any new emergency laws and procedures the governor may enact, and adjust accordingly. However, currently, Giglio does not expect there to be an extension of the school year.  

“We believe that our remote learning will be sufficient and we will not have ‘lost time,’” Giglio said. “The reason our school is switching to remote learning is to keep students moving forward and making progress.”