Worsening coronavirus fears propel closures, cancelations

Empty shelves in the paper-goods aisle at a Tempe Walmart were one more sign of rising public concern over COVID-19.      –Wrangler News photo by Joyce Coronel

Editor’s note: Since the initial publication of this article, numerous changes have occurred in the Tempe and West Chandler communities regarding COVID-19 prevention efforts. The following is the most updated list of these changes:

Last updated March 16:

March 16, 2:00 pm: ASU President Michael Crow has decided to move all classes to an online platform for the rest of the Spring semester, utilizing the virtual meeting tool, Zoom. In an email he writes, “Although this shift in learning has been extended, the university continues to remain open. This includes computer labs, libraries, food service, health clinics, counseling services, research labs and all other aspects of the university.”

Crow says that the classes which have already tested this online version (over 14,000) have been very successful. All public events on campus that are not directly related to teaching and research at the university have been canceled. University housing, however, will remain open and all essential services will continue to be provided.

The 32nd annual Ostrich Festival was postponed and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has ordered that all schools to remain closed through March 27 in an effort to combat the spread of COVID 19.

Terri Kimble, president of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that Chandler city officials and the Chandler Chamber leadership felt the postponement was in the “best interest of our attendees, staff, vendors and everyone involved.” All purchased tickets will be honored for the rescheduled event. A date has not yet been announced.

The city of Tempe has closed all public facilities through March 27. This includes Tempe Public Library, Kiwanis Recreation Center, Pyle Adult Recreation Center, Tempe History Museum, Edna Vihel Arts Center and all Tempe historic properties. Tempe has also canceled all events and most public meetings through April. The city is working with Tempe Community Action Agency on details to continue providing meals to seniors and will provide updates as arrangements are made. Tempe Elementary School District is providing meals for students.

All critical services that Tempe provides – police and fire protection, traffic control, transit, court services, water and wastewater and solid waste pickup – will continue to be fully available as normal. Tempe is prepared to continue providing those services uninterrupted even if the virus spreads and begins to affect city employees.

The city of Chandler announced that all special events that are city-sponsored or take place on City of Chandler property are canceled through April 30. And, all senior active adult recreation programs are canceled through April 30.

Shoppers were out in droves over the weekend, with a long line of members waiting to enter. The line snaked along the west-side of the Tempe Costco building. At nearby Walmart, many store shelves were emptied with flour, shortening and toilet paper gone.

March 13:

  • TUHSD will close schools to students beginning Monday, March 16, 2020. School officials write, “At this time, we will be monitoring the closure of our schools on a daily basis to make the best determination for when school might resume. All school activities, athletics, and events will be cancelled until further notice.” Information: https://www.tempeunion.org
  • Tempe Elementary School District will remain closed following spring break, beginning Monday, March 16th. Students will not return until further notice.
  • Kyrene School District announced in a letter on March 12th that schools will remain closed for the week following Spring Break. Dr. Jan Vesley writes, “All Kyrene schools will be closed beginning Tuesday, March 17, through at least Friday, March 20. The Kyrene Governing Board will meet Tuesday evening to discuss the length of the closure.” Information: https://www.kyrene.org/911
  • The City of Tempe will cancel public special events and project-specific public input meetings through the end of April, in compliance with CDC guidance about large gatherings and the benefits of social distancing in minimizing community spread of the coronavirus. Geeks Night Out, Human Services Day,Tour de Tempe and the State of the Neighborhoods & Awards. They also include events by external organizers, such as the Aloha Festival, Tempe Festival of the Arts and more. Events of any size are impacted. Some events may be rescheduled and some may not be.  Programs and performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts will be cancelled through April and may be rescheduled in the future. The Gallery at TCA and the facility itself will remain open. Information: https://www.tempe.gov
  • Chandler Chamber Ostrich Festival will continue, but with increased precautions for the health and safety of the community. Additionally, due to heavy rain, the festival will delay its opening until Friday, March 13th at 2 P.M. Information: https://ostrichfestival.com
  • ASU has announced that it will transition in-person classes to online instruction, effective March 16th following the university’s spring break. President Michael Crow writes, “Classes will continue in this mode for two weeks, at which time the university will assess where things stand with COVID-19.” Information: https://eoss.asu.edu/health/announcements/coronavirus
  • NCAA has suspended the season for Winter and Spring sports across the nation, forcing ASU student athletes to travel back to Tempe despite previous plans for championships in the coming weeks. 

Wrangler News Staff will continue to provide updates to the community as the information develops.

By Joyce Coronel

ASU students wearing face masks. Toilet paper disappearing from shelves. Limits on the purchase of hand sanitizer. As fears of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, spread, Tempe and West Chandler have been swept up in the tide of concern over a mysterious illness with global implications.

Tempe Sister Cities, which has a partnership with Zhenjiang, China, has been impacted by the concern over the viral disease. David Carrera, president of TSC, said the organization “will not be sending nor receiving delegates from China,” adding that TSC is “taking the coronavirus very seriously.

“The safety of the Tempe and International families and delegates is our first priority.”

Zhehjiang is located about 400 miles from Wuhan, where the coronavirus epidemic originated. The decision to neither send nor receive delegates from Zhehjiang was made by the TSC executive committee and both Tempe and Zhenjiang country directors.

A TSC committee will continue to monitor the status of COVID-19. “The committee includes board members and doctors who will gather and review information as it evolves to keep the organization informed,” Carrera said.

At the student exchange orientation, parents and delegates were informed that TSC would keep them informed as the situation unfolds. That includes the possibility of canceling exchanges with countries where the threat of the coronavirus exists. “Our planning and managing is not taken lightly,” Carrera told Wrangler News.

“We will be diligent in our research to ensure we protect the health and safety of our students and others involved in our exchange programs.”

Tempe students participating in the program will still be visiting the other eight countries in the TSC program, Carrera noted.

Empty pallets at Tempe Costco provide one more example of growing shortages. — Photo for Wrangler News courtesy John Greb

Concern over the virus has also spread to ASU. University President Michael Crow, in a March 5 letter to students and their families just prior to spring break, noted that “the current level of health risk in the United States remains low” but recommended monitoring the university’s COVID-19 webpage for accurate updates.

ASU is following new travel and isolation guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the Maricopa County Health Department. China, Iran, Italy and South Korea are listed as level 3 countries, and Japan is a level 2.

“Travelers from Level 2 or 3 countries should self-isolate at their home or an off-campus residence for 14 days and monitor their symptoms before returning to campus,” Crow’s letter states.

ASU Health Services, in a separate and earlier letter to students, reviewed prevention tips and said that although ASU “does not set requirements for personal travel, we are strongly urging people to not travel to areas with active community transmission and/or level 1, 2 or 3 countries.”

The Kyrene, Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union High School districts are also working to keep parents updated on the coronavirus. In a message on Kyrene’s website, Kyrene.org, the district’s emergency management team noted all Kyrene schools as well as the district office would undergo a thorough cleaning over spring break. Disinfection wipes, tissues and hand sanitizer are available in every classroom.

Though coronavirus symptoms may be mild in children, some Kyrene students live with people in higher- risk groups, such as those with heart disease, diabetes or respiratory conditions. As a result, some families have asked about keeping healthy children home from school as a precaution. Those absences will be excused, the Kyrene notice states.

At press time, there were no cases of COVID-19 connected to the Kyrene district. “If there were to be an outbreak in a Kyrene school, it is within the authority of the superintendent to close schools, if necessary,” the notice states.

The Tempe Elementary district’s letter to parents reviewed prevention tips like frequent hand-washing, keeping the hands away from the face and keeping children home when they’re sick.

“Because most people with COVID- 19 have mild disease, the likelihood that the Maricopa County Health Department will recommend closing schools is very low, but not zero. In the highly unlikely chance that MCDPH has to shut down your child’s school due to a COVID-19 outbreak, it is important for parents/guardians to have a plan for who could take care of your child,” the notice from Tempe Elementary states.

Dr. Kevin J. Mendivil, superintendent of Tempe Union High School District, urged parents to monitor the CDC’s website for up-to- date information, particularly with regard to travel.

“At this time there are no identified cases in our Tempe Union High School District community,” Mendivil’s letter states. “We are following Maricopa County’s preventative recommendations for schools, which include enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs.” The deep cleaning was set to take place during the district’s spring break.

At Tempe’s Arizona Community Church, a church bulletin was offering information to its flock on the coronavirus to its flock with a reprint of the World Health Organization’s “10 Basic Things You Should Know.”

The recommendations emphasized the importance of using an alcohol- based hand sanitizer or hand washing with soap and water as a way to limit the spread of disease.

“It’s normal and understandable to feel anxious, especially if you live in a country or community that has been affected,” the WHO reprint states. “Discuss how to stay safe with your workplace, school or place of worship.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, which oversees St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler as well as Holy Spirit and Our Lady of Mount Carmel churches in Tempe, sent guidelines as well. The letter states that pastors may implement precautionary measures, including such procedures as distributing Holy Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue; omitting the sign of peace; and refraining from using holy water fonts.

“Throughout history Christians have served the community as a witness of love and care during times of illness.

“Christ is the center of our life and He will lead us through all challenges,” wrote the Rev. Fredrick J. Adamson, moderator of the curia for the Phoenix Diocese.

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