Heber Schools close; courts impose distancing

Dogwood Elementary School students react to a California Highway Patrol safety presentation on March 7, 2014, in Heber. The Heber Elementary School District has announced the suspension of classes district-wide until Jan. 24 due to COVID. IVP FILE PHOTO

HEBER – Amid the ever-expanding impact of the latest COVID-19 surge, came perhaps the most drastic measure Wednesday when the Heber Elementary School District announced it was suspending classes at both its schools until Jan. 24.

“Currently, we have 24 classrooms in quarantine status, over 100 staff and students who have tested positive for COVID, and more than 300 absences per day,” Superintendent Juan Cruz wrote in a notice to parents.

The action affects Dogwood Elementary and Heber School. The closure began Thursday. Classes are expected to resume Jan. 24.

The action was taken in consultation with the Imperial County Office of Education, and county and state public health departments, Cruz stated.

ICOE Superintendent Todd Finnell, who is an elected official, said, “I am not aware of any other districts that are moving toward closure at this time. Each is evaluating their circumstances daily, so this could change.”

He also issued a statement that reads in part, “While we know the safest and most supportive place for students is in our schools, each district must ensure they can safely operate with appropriate staff. Those that feel they can no longer safely operate their schools are having to explore a variety of options, to include a temporary closure.”

Finnell added, “School closures have significant impacts on our students, families and throughout our greater community, which is why they are only considered when all other options have been exhausted.”

Meanwhile, the county Superior Court, which has already given judges the option of postponing trials for 30 days due to COVID risks, on Wednesday announced it was implementing physical distancing requirements.

“Signage and distance markers will be placed to limit seating in courtrooms and hallways,” a press release stated. “The court continues to maintain its safety protocols and (is) carefully assessing whether additional measures may be needed…while keeping essential services open.”

Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District Chief Executive Officer Lawrence Lewis on Wednesday shared for the first time this year data on COVID’s impact on the hospital.

“As of this morning, our total COVID inpatient census was 40, with nine COVID ICU patients. The total patient census is 75 percent higher than a normal year, with both COVID and non-COVID patients surging,” he said.

“Additionally, there is only extremely limited availability to transfer patients as every hospital is overcrowded locally and throughout the state. The emergency room is holding anywhere from 14 to 23 patients awaiting bed placements at any time,” Lewis added.

Asked how the situation is affecting staffing, Lewis explained, “All staff are feeling the strain of a large number of patients. The entire country and state are working with 20 percent fewer staff than pre-COVID. Many are pitching in and doing everything they can to provide the best of care.”

To fill the gaps the state Emergency Medical Services Authority has provided 33 registered nurses to date, with two more and 10 paramedics expected soon, he added. The hospital is also contracting with agencies directly as staff becomes available.

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