As coronavirus spreads in Sac, LRCCD closes campuses


Starting Wednesday, March 18, all campus facilities will be closed to all students, faculty, staff and community members, and classes will move to online or remote operations. (Photo illustration by Jennah Booth)

Ariel Caspar and Bram Martinez

As concerns about the coronavirus continue to grow throughout the college communities, the Los Rios Community College District announced March 12 that, effective Friday, March 13, the Los Rios district will suspend all face-to-face classes and student interactions, and beginning March 18, the campuses will close. 

“Starting Wednesday, March 18 all campus facilities will be closed to all students, faculty, staff, and community members; however instructional, student services, and operational responsibilities will continue online or remotely,” the email said, regarding the district’s decision to close Los Rios campuses.

According to Brian King, LRCCD Chancellor, based on the guidance from the California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, all colleges should prepare for this crisis to last at least through June, and should expect to continue with remote operations through the end of the semester.

This follows in the wake of previous emails and RAVE alert updates the district has been sending out since Feb. 27. These alerts had been sent out due to four students within the LRCCD who had been exposed to the virus in February.

Since the disease has spread to a handful of states in the United States, including California, where now 11 deaths have occurred and a range of 200 to over 500 cases have been confirmed, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4, and urged the restriction of all meetings of 250 or more people, according to multiple news outlets. Recently, this number has dropped to 10 people or more, with shelter in place a likely possibility, according to multiple news outlets.  

COVID-19, or coronavirus, is a pathogenic, respiratory illness that first emerged in Wuhan, China, and is said to have originated from bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

As this disease continues to become more threatening, the LRCCD is keeping students, staff and faculty as informed as possible with frequent updates and alerts, according to the March 12 update.

“This situation is rapidly evolving, so all students, faculty, and staff should be prepared for additional critical updates and districtwide alerts,” the email said. “We will continue to provide regular updates, including updated frequently asked questions, on the district coronavirus website.”

According to a Los Rios Health alert sent out via email on March 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all events with a total of people exceeding 250, or where social distancing of 6-feet per person is not possible, have been canceled until further notice, including all athletic events, performing arts shows, celebratory gatherings and non-essential gatherings. 

That same alert confirmed that there continues to be zero confirmed cases in students or employees within the LRCCD of the COVID-19 virus.

Although there are no confirmed cases, the alert also informed students the LRCCD is “taking all appropriate measures and will continue to follow the expert guidance of the California Department of Public Health and county agencies.”

Sacramento County Public Health experts had directed all colleges to continue with regular class and work schedules at that time, according to the alert. On March 12, the LRCCD made the decision to close all Los Rios campuses as a precautionary measure, according to the March 12 alert.

According to a March 8 Los Rios Health alert, college custodial teams are taking extra measures to deep clean campuses with higher-strength disinfectant agents, with a focus on “high-touch” points such as doorknobs, railings, door handles, bathroom push doors and light switches. Areas where confirmed exposed students may have been have also received extra cleaning.

On Feb. 27, American River College’s communications office first reported to all Los Rios Community College District staff, faculty and student population through RAVE alerts sent via text and email, that two students, one from ARC and one from Cosumnes River College had both been exposed to an individual who had tested positive for COVID-19. 

The two students are medical health professionals and were exposed to the virus while performing their medical duties, according to the ARC communications announcement. After the exposure, both of the students returned to their respective campuses. Shortly following this announcement, ARC communications reported that two more students from Sacramento City College were also exposed at a different hospital.

The original announcement said that since the exposures, the Sacramento County Department of Public Health had indicated that there were no indications at that time that members of the campus communities were at risk of potential exposure to the virus, but that later changed on March 12 when all face-to-face interactions on campus were suspended by the district.

Scott Crow, ARC public information officer, told the Current that the exposed students made contact with the infected individual before it was confirmed they tested positive for COVID-19, and that is the reason why they returned to the campuses.

According to Crow, both students had been instructed by county health experts to self-monitor symptoms and to self-quarantine for 14 days as a mandatory precaution.

“We would definitely recommend that those students do as instructed,” Crow said.

It was later reported in a separate announcement that same day, that a third and fourth student, both from Sacramento City College, were also exposed to someone who may have contracted COVID-19 while performing their medical duties as healthcare professionals. One of these students did not return to the SCC campus, and one did.

With a total of four exposures, Sac County Public Health experts had directed all colleges to “take no immediate action and proceed with regular class and work schedules” at that time, according to the RAVE alert announcement.

On Feb. 28, ARC President Thomas Greene issued a message to the whole campus in regards to the announcements.

“I want to reassure you that your health and safety is paramount, and we are actively monitoring and responding to this situation as it evolves,” Greene wrote.

Greene said the ARC Health and Wellness Center staff were prepared to give guidance to individual employees and students regarding these concerning times.

Dee Dee Gilliam, director of student health and wellness, released a statement to the Current via email regarding the growing concerns of COVID-19, and whether or not there had been a contingency plan in place.

In response, Gilliam said the ARC Health and Wellness Center was also working closely with the Sac County Department of Health Services and were frequently monitoring communications from the California Department of Public Health, the CDC and the World Health Organization, and was prepared to follow their expert guidance, before the campuses closed.

“As healthcare professionals, we follow best practice guidelines from those who have the knowledge and expertise from many years of communicable disease control,” Gilliam said. “The information that we are providing is based on those best practices, as well as basic infection control practices that we have worked within for many years, in preventing the spread of respiratory diseases.”

Since the exposures were reported, the situation has continued to evolve, with messages from the ARC communications office being sent out frequently regarding new developments and communicating that the Los Rios district and its colleges were in close communication with county health officials and the Center for Disease Control, which led to the decision to close campuses.

Brenda Bongiorno, Sac County Public Health Services public information officer, spoke to the Current via email on behalf of SCPH regarding the cases within the LRCCD. 

Bongiorno said that SCPH has developed a coordinated system with healthcare partners for successful infection control. She said they are effectively identifying possible cases, conducting testing and diagnosis of suspect cases and leading investigations to identify individuals who may have been exposed.

“Currently, we are working very closely with the Los Rios Community College District to perform contact analysis of people who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 either as travelers or because of a connection to a family member,” Bongiorno said.

According to Bongiorno, SCPH is instructing identified cases to quarantine or isolate themselves. She also clarified that an individual who has been released from isolation or completed quarantine no longer poses a risk of infection to others they come into contact with. 

Borgiorno said that the SCPH recognizes students may have concerns, and emphasized the importance of remaining calm.

“Please be assured that there is no need for alarm or to change daily routines,” she said. “We recommend you practice the same precautions you do during cold and flu season and avoid non-essential travel to areas where COVID-19 infection is widespread.”

In more recent developments, the LRCCD is now coordinating daily discussions to assess the daily status at each campus so they can make quick decisions and communicate new information to students and employees, according to Gabe Ross, the Los Rios district associate vice chancellor.

For the few students from the Los Rios campuses, who are still in quarantine, they are being treated on a case-by-case basis with their instructors in regards to their absences from class, according to Ross, and if new identified cases arise, this is how students and instructors are advised to proceed.

It has also been communicated that the college should pay special attention to any incidents that involve stereotyping, bullying or harassment directed towards people perceived to be Chinese American or more generally of Asian descent, as there had been several media reports of this issue. 

“Ethnic harassment or bullying exacerbates hatred, harms students, and is never justified,” Ross said. “We reaffirm our commitment that all students should be able to study and learn in an environment that is healthy, safe, and free from bias or discrimination.”

To prevent the spread of this infection, the Los Rios Health Department, the Sacramento County Department of Health services, and the CDC have made information on coronavirus available to students and employees through email links.  

These agencies encourage the washing of hands frequently for 20-60 seconds. Washing hands remains an effective way to halt the spreading of pathogens. They also recommend avoiding touching your mouth, eyes or nose with unwashed hands, as well as covering your mouth while coughing.

The Sac County Health Department, the CDC and the Los Rios Health and Wellness Center also recommend that individuals self-monitor in case they show any signs of symptoms. They recommend checking for fever, if coughing is getting more frequent or if experiencing shortness of breath. 

If infection is suspected, please notify the Sacramento Health department immediately, especially if there has been any travel to mainland China, Italy, Iran, Japan or South Korea within the last two weeks, or have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, according to the Los Rios coronavirus FAQ page. The page also recommends self-monitoring daily, checking for fever twice a day.

 According to the Sacramento Department of Health, there have been a total of 40 cases of COVID-19, with three deaths and a recovery in Sacramento and Placer Counties. Sacramento Department of Health is also changing the way they are handling these cases from containment to mitigation. With this shift, a 14-day quarantine will no longer be necessary and health agencies are now requiring individuals who have been exposed to go into isolation immediately if they are experiencing symptoms, according to NPR. 

Continue to check emails daily for Los Rios Health Alerts, as they will provide the most current updates on COVID-19 in the Los Rios District.

Update: This article was updated on March 17 @ 5:03 p.m. to reflect new information.