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Coronavirus threats cause closures in Flagstaff
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Coronavirus threats cause closures in Flagstaff

From the A collection of the Daily Sun's coronavirus coverage series

The threat of coronavirus has become palpable in Flagstaff, with a slew of closures and event cancellations announced Thursday.

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 locally; two Coconino County samples submitted for testing at the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory were negative for the virus.

The seven people who were self-monitoring for the disease last week have all been cleared, said county epidemiologist Matt Maurer. There is one sample still awaiting results from a commercial tester. The two negative samples were the only two sent by the county to the state laboratory for testing as of Thursday evening.

As state and federal agencies provide new information on the outbreak, Coconino County Health and Human Services continues to provide updates to its partner organizations.

“We are working with our organizations to help them determine what the recommendations are and then they are making their own judgment,” Maurer said. “Ultimately it’s up to them on what they’re going to do to move forward at this time.”

In response to the virus, Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College have postponed the start of in-person classes after spring break next week, though the campuses will be open. Students at both institutions have been asked to reevaluate any potential spring break travel plans. Flagstaff Unified School District, Coconino County and the City of Flagstaff remain on normal schedules, while Lowell Observatory has closed its visitor programs.

NAU

Starting March 23, NAU will transition to online instruction for at least two weeks. Campus will remain open and operational, including university housing, food and health services and research labs. Employees will report to work as usual. The status of planned on-campus events is still being determined.

In a message to the campus community Wednesday, NAU President Rita Cheng asked students to consider staying in Flagstaff or on campus for spring break. All NAU students and faculty in programs in other countries have been asked to immediately return to the United States. Non-essential university-sponsored travel outside of Arizona and all faculty-led study abroad programs through May have been canceled. Instructions for faculty, staff and students will be released in the coming days.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 is fluid and continues to warrant the attention and flexibility of each of us as we work together to keep our students, faculty, staff, and communities safe and healthy," Cheng said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "As students prepare for spring break, we are implementing a number of measures to ensure we continue to deliver the high-quality education our students need to keep them on track for graduation, as well as focus on the health and safety of our NAU community."

Arizona State University and the University of Arizona announced similar transitions to online classes Wednesday.

CCC

CCC students will not attend class in person for the week of March 23-27, but participate in “alternative learning methods” that are currently being developed by faculty. All college staff will report to work and have been asked to practice social distancing.

Events for the week are being canceled and additional decisions on future events will be made Monday, March 23. The CCC District Governing Board will meet as scheduled that day at 4 p.m. with an abbreviated agenda.

“Those of us at Coconino Community College believe this to be the best decision with the information we have at this time,” CCC President Colleen Smith said in a media release Thursday.

FUSD

Flagstaff Unified School District remains on a normal schedule, but canceled two student trips planned for spring break next week: a Flagstaff High School band trip to Chicago and a Sinagua Middle School trip to Washington, D.C. Future event decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis and information on districtwide schedules for the following week will be shared during the break.

“FUSD is aware that other educational entities in the community and nationally are changing their schedules based on their particular circumstances,” stated a district message sent to families Thursday evening. “We do not have any changes to our current schedule at this time and look forward to our scheduled Spring Break next week - March 16 through March 20.”

The message encouraged students and staff to stay home if they are ill and not return to school until they have been free of fever — without taking a fever-reducing medication — for 72 hours. Anyone with a positive COVID-19 test must wait seven days after receiving a healthy test result before returning to school.

“If FUSD is alerted that any type of community spread of COVID-19 is occurring in Coconino County, we will immediately follow all protocols set forth by the Coconino County Health and Human Services Department,” the message stated. “In an abundance of caution, our administrative team is developing contingency plans for students and staff in case we need to alter our services in the future.”

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory will be closing its on-site visitor program starting Friday. The closure will last until the situation improves.

“We are an institution of science, and we would be doing a disservice to our mission, our staff, our guests and our community to do less than what the data are clearly telling us,” Lowell Observatory Director Jeff Hall said in a media release. “I will be sad to see our campus silent this weekend, but it is the right thing to do.”

To account for the lost visitors, Lowell Observatory is creating online experiences, which could include sharing images of celestial objects that would normally be seen during telescope viewings, virtual tours of popular sites such as the Pluto Discovery Telescope or livestreamed interviews with astronomers.

Normal public-facing staff will continue to work and be given duties that do not require face-to-face interaction with the public, such as creating this new digital content.

City of Flagstaff

All Flagstaff’s City Council and Commission meetings will be livestreamed on the city’s website, but will not have a public audience, the city announced Thursday evening. Public comments can be submitted via email to publiccomment@flagstaffaz.gov and a staff member will read them at the meeting. Comments should include the sender’s name, agenda item, if they wish the comment to be read aloud and no more than three minutes of commentary. Profane or threatening language will not be read.

“As the mayor and meeting chair, after consultation with public health officials I am suspending in-person audiences at City Council and Commission meetings until further notice,” Mayor Coral Evans said in a media release. “This is to assist with promoting social distance measures as instructed by the CDC.”

Within city facilities, staff are cleaning public access areas including doors, handrails, countertops and restrooms multiple times a day, said spokesperson Jessica Drum. In the evening, janitors have added an additional process for virus protection, including sanitizing all surfaces.

The city of Flagstaff is operating under its normal management structure and is offering 80 hours of paid public health emergency leave for city staff members if they or one of their household members is ill.

“The Leadership team is developing contingencies to safe guard the work force as they serve the community,” Drum said in an email. “City service groups have been implementing measures or identifying risk management measures and will continue to do so as more technical information becomes available.”

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.

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