Millions of California school children stay home because of coronavirus
OAKLAND, Calif. - Millions of California’s youngest residents are staying home Monday as state and local governments take increasingly strident steps to separate people and contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recommended all nonessential gatherings be limited to 250 people, prompting the temporary closure of numerous businesses, performances and meetings. He didn’t order school closures but virtually every district took the step on its own.
California has confirmed at least 335 cases of the virus and six deaths. The virus usually causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, but can be deadly for older people and those with underlying health conditions.
Newsom said an estimated 85% of California’s 6 million public school students will be out of their classrooms this week. The length of time varies by district, with some canceling classes for up to five weeks.
In the Bay Area, most all the schools, both private and public, will be closed on Monday, including the region's largest districts in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, for at least a month, which includes a planned two-week spring break.
Teachers will continue to get paid and provide online classes for students; though many acknowledge not everyone has a computer at home.
This weekend, the non-profit Bay Area Tutoring Association, has been getting a flood of calls for help.
"The last few days have been unprecedented and the number of phone calls and emails that we've received on our website in terms of how can I support my student or how can I make sure that the academic needs of my student are going to be met over the next several weeks have been incredible," said Chris Norwood, the group's founding director.
The current supply of tutors can’t meet demand, but people are also contacting the association to help.
"We've already started receiving phone calls from people who have said I want to volunteer to work with students," Norwood said.
School districts throughout the state were also providing free meals for children at certain pick-up times throughout the day.
What working parents will do with their young children at home will vary family by family and likely be an extreme hardship for those who don't have flexible jobs.
"It hasn't hit me. It just didn't hit me," said parent Rita Lu, who was caught off guard on Friday when she learned her kids' school was shutting down for three weeks. She has twins who are freshman at Milpitas High. The school is instituting an online learning program, but it’s not expected to be live until the end of the week.
Newsom said he recognizes the increasing isolation for millions of Californians is “anxiety-inducing” but said the moves are necessary to protect the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti imposed even stricter requirements in his city. Restaurants may only offer pickup, delivery and drive-through service. He also closed gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and arcades.
School lunches will be provided for those who need them.
The restrictions are in effect until at least March 31.
Danielle Blocker of Simi Valley, a special needs aide for the Los Angeles Unified School District, applauded the move to close schools. She has Crohn’s disease and is immune compromised.
Students may be young enough to fight off the virus but “they’re going to bring it home to people like me,” she said.
However, she’s not looking forward to making her 14-year-old son study at home.
“It’s like pulling teeth, it’s terrible,” she said.
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Many districts are arranging for meal pickups for underprivileged children who depend on schools for breakfast and lunch. Many college students also are back home as their colleges and universities empty their dormitories and move classes online.
Linda York, 65, of San Jose said she plans to follow Newsom’s orders and only leave home to walk with her dog, Cara. She said she has a month of food for her and her 65-year-old husband, a physicist who plans to continue working.
For the next few weeks, she plans to use her new camera for nature photography and do household projects. She said the quarantines and closures make it feel like “something real is happening now. We can’t escape what happens next.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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