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Petaluma events canceled amid coronavirus concerns

How To Reduce Your Risk:

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

• Avoid touching your eyes and face

• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow

• Stay home when ill

• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text “COVID19” to 211211 for coronavirus information.

Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus hit Petaluma hard this week as events were canceled and healthcare workers prepared for the outbreak.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced all public gatherings of 250 or more people should not take place, setting off a wave of cancellations that included all shows at Petaluma’s Mystic Theater through March. The Butter & Egg Days parade, Petaluma’s marquee event scheduled for April 25, was postponed, and organizers hoped to reschedule it in August.

Updated federal and state guidelines announced this week include avoiding groups of 10 or more people and closing bars and wine tasting rooms. Sonoma County residents Tuesday were ordered to shelter in place.

Petaluma City Schools canceled all events, including field trips and dances, through April 30. School district officials extended spring break, which began Friday, until March 30, and were preparing for remote learning after that. Santa Rosa Junior College canceled classes, including those at the Petaluma campus, through March 29.

The city of Petaluma ?declared a state of emergency, allowing it to marshal resources to deal with the outbreak. So far, Sonoma County has confirmed eight known cases of coronavirus. Several other Sonoma County residents, including a couple from Petaluma, were among the passengers on a cruise ship that experienced an outbreak and are in quarantine at U.S. military bases.

Meanwhile, the Petaluma Health Center and Petaluma Valley Hospital initiated triage procedures to deal with patients that present symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Event cancellations

The Petaluma Downtown Association, which organizes the Butter & Egg Days parade and Antique Fair, on Tuesday postponed the event that typically draws 20,000 people to the city.

“We didn’t make this decision lightly,” said Marie McCusker, executive director of the Downtown Association. “It’s about more than a parade right now. The most important thing is the well being of the community. We’re here to support our local business owners who are scared not knowing what to do.”

The Mystic Theater on Petaluma Boulevard said in a statement Thursday that it decided to cancel all shows through the end of the month based on the new state guidelines. The Phoenix Theater, Petaluma’s other large music venue, followed suit, displaying a sign on its marquee that read “See you in April, stay well.”

Tom Gaffey, the general manager, said the cancellations will take a toll on the theater.

“We’re operating on razor thin margins. It will impact us greatly,” he said. “It’s crazy times.”

Cinnabar Theater canceled performances through the end of March. The Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park closed indefinitely.

Copperfield’s Bookstore canceled all events through April, and closed its stores. An Easter celebration planned for March 28 at East Washington Place shopping center was canceled.

The Sonoma County Library, including the Petaluma branch, closed to the public through March 31.

The decision “comes after a week of increasingly strict notices and advisories, including the current County of Sonoma Department of Health Services advisory to not allow public gatherings of more than 10 people unless participants can practice social distancing,” said Sonoma County Library Director Ann Hammond.

The disruptions and general guidelines for “social distancing” could make people less inclined to shop and dine in Petaluma, having a devastating affect on the city’s tourism economy, said Onita Pellegrini, executive director of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Our restaurants are experiencing a downturn,” Pellegrini said. “They’re canceling things left and right. It’s not good for business.”

The Petaluma Hotel has had a few cancellations, but nothing concerning for general manager Dustin Groff. But, he said, the economic impacts of the pandemic are only beginning to be felt.

“We’re still in the beginning of this,” he said. “It’s going to affect our economy for sure. The local economy relies on tourism.”

Health concerns

The Petaluma Health Center, which serves 39,000 patients annually, set up a tent outside its North McDowell Boulevard facility to intake patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Staff were checking patients’ symptoms at the door, and directing those with respiratory symptoms to an isolated waiting room, said Amy Anderson, the nurse manager.

An employee with the health center’s Rohnert Park site on Sunday was the first person in Sonoma County to test positive for COVID-19 through community spread.

How To Reduce Your Risk:

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

• Avoid touching your eyes and face

• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow

• Stay home when ill

• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text “COVID19” to 211211 for coronavirus information.

“Based on our investigation, there is reason to believe that their exposure to the virus was from sources outside of our clinical facilities,” the health center said in a statement. “As part of our stringent protocol, we are taking every precaution to protect other employees and our patients. We remain confident in our personal protection standards.”

Patients suspected to be infected with the coronavirus were being tested, Anderson said, with kits sent to the Quest Diagnostics commercial laboratory. So far Petaluma does not have any confirmed cases of coronavirus.

“We are prepared to support county efforts and take care of our patients,” Anderson said. “It would be naive to think that we have a magic wall around Sonoma County.”

The Petaluma Health Care District is focusing its efforts on educating the public about the coronavirus, said CEO Ramona Faith. The district’s website, phcd.org/coronavirus, provides information about symptoms, prevention and how to stop its spread - hand washing, practicing social distancing, staying home when sick, among other strategies.

The district canceled a CPR class last week, Faith said.

“If it’s not necessary, we don’t want people to get together,” she said. “The main thing is to get the information out. It’s better to be on the safe side. We support what the recommendations are.”

Stores, including the Petaluma Target, were running low or were out of supplies such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Restaurants, including Starbucks, were only allowing customers to take food to go. Most gyms were closed.

Health officials were especially worried about seniors, as the coronavirus seems to disproportionately impact the elderly population. Some stores, like Petaluma Market, offered special hours for senior shoppers from 6 to 7 a.m.

Petaluma People Services Center, which runs the Senior Cafe lunch program at the Petaluma Senior Center, said it was switching to meals for pickup only, to avoid creating a gathering for elderly residents.

Elece Hempel, executive director of PPSC, said seniors are also impacted by social isolation, so the organization is launching a program to call vulnerable seniors for daily check-ins.

“They love the socialization, but they’re frail,” she said. “It’s for their best health. We’re getting out in front of it as much as we can.”

A Petaluma couple was among the 3,500 people on board the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked at the port of Oakland last Monday after experiencing an outbreak of coronavirus at sea. Sandy Granger, 68, and her husband, Richard Granger, 72, were taken Tuesday from the ship to Travis Air Force Base, where they were being held in quarantine.

The retired state workers who have lived in Petaluma 33 years were fine and did not test positive for the coronavirus, Sandy Granger said. Their quarantine was expected to last two weeks, she said.

“We’ve been going along with the plan,” she said. “What else can you do.”

City, school plans

The city of Petaluma declared an emergency on March 9, making available additional resources to deal with the situation, City Manager Peggy Flynn said in a statement. City facilities closed to the public, and residents were encouraged to watch public meetings from home on the internet or TV.

“Be assured that we are with you throughout this event, and in true Petaluma spirit, we will get through this together,” Flynn’s statement said.

The city closed the following facilities and programs through the end of March: recreation classes, activities, camps, sports leagues and aquatics programs; private rentals at city-owned properties including the Senior Center, Community Center, Kenilworth Teen Center, Swim Center, Museum and Cavanagh Pool; special event permits, park permits, and picnic reservations for events on city property; and non-essential committee and commission meetings.

Petaluma City Schools, the largest school district in Petaluma, extended spring break by one week.

“Staff will use the week of March 23 through the 27th to prepare to provide distance learning options for students, if site-based learning is suspended beyond Friday, March 27,” the district said in a statement. “We will follow-up with additional communications if distance learning is enacted.”

The Old Adobe Union School District, Wilmar School District, Cinnabar and Liberty School District suspended classes through at least March 30. Waugh School District and Two Rock School District are closed through April 5.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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