(AP) – Empty store shelves. Empty churches. Shuttered classrooms and courts. Warnings everywhere to wash hands and avoid close contact.
Efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus in California are affecting virtually every facet of life in the Golden State in ways big and small — and in some cases, surreal.
Popular restaurants were desperate for patrons, and typically crowded gyms had plenty of floor space. Some stores limited sales of toilet paper and other goods to combat hoarding.
California has about 250 confirmed cases and recorded its sixth death Friday, a woman in her 80s from Santa Clara County. The county south of San Francisco is the hardest hit in the state, reporting a tripling of cases this week to 79. More than half were infected through so-called community transmission — in other words, the source of the infection was not known.
The phrase “social distancing” — simply, keeping away from other people to prevent the spread of the illness — was suddenly part of everyday conversation. Thousands of people were being urged to work from home, if possible, rather than coming into the office.
With the COVID-19 virus outbreak declared a world pandemic, Californians were abandoning their laid-back image as governments and businesses rushed to put measures in place to reduce its spread, ranging from bans on large group gatherings to information campaigns.
In Oakland, nearly 2,500 passengers have headed to quarantine sites from a cruise ship that docked there Monday after passengers contracted the virus. Princess Cruises said 14 international passengers remained on the ship while waiting to be repatriated to their home countries.
The virus usually causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can be hit with more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. More than 80,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. More than 65,000 have recovered.
More than 700 electronic highway signs began displaying on Saturday new public health warnings, urging drivers to avoid gatherings and wash their hands.
Roman Catholics in the Los Angeles and Oakland dioceses were dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass through March.
On Friday, Los Angeles and San Diego school districts joined many others in announcing closures. By Monday, one-third of California’s 6 million public school students will be out of the classroom for one up to five weeks, depending on the district, as schools look to limit the health risks. Some expanded spring break while others were taking a wait-and-see approach.
Colleges and universities have said they will hold classes online. Stanford University urged students late Friday to leave campus as soon as possible after an undergraduate student tested positive.
Maryjane De La Rosa, a 16-year-old sophomore at Los Angeles’ John Marshall High School, said she wished the state’s largest district had closed schools sooner.
“I think the precautions should have been taken a long time ago,” she said, noting she has asthma and is worried about her health. She plans to stay inside this weekend, “knowing I’m safer at home.”
There were concerns that closing school cafeterias would deprive students of meals, especially those from poorer families. West Contra Costa Unified School District announced that any child under 18 will be able to pick up food at two high schools. Meanwhile, San Francisco will shut libraries and indoor recreation centers to turn them into childcare centers for low-income families.
Kids kept out of school might find their entertainment choices limited. Zoos, museums and even Disneyland were closed to the public while college and major professional sports leagues cancelled games.
Courts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties moved to delay trials and Contra Costa closed its courts for two weeks.
Taxpayers got more time to file; state officials moved back the deadline to file California tax returns by two months to June 15.
The state Senate canceled all its committee hearings for next week in order to focus on handling the coronavirus outbreak, although the Senate as a whole was still scheduled to meet.
Jot Condie, who heads the California Restaurant Association, said some restaurants in tourist-dependent economies like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego had seen business plummet.
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