Editorial: The growing coronavirus crisis demands more consistent, aggressive response | News | Palo Alto Online |


Editorial: The growing coronavirus crisis demands more consistent, aggressive response

The spread of COVID-19 has outpaced steps to contain it. Now the challenge is to slow it down.

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As anxiety levels rise in the region over the rapidly escalating coronavirus crisis, an alarming lack of coordinated and consistent actions by public agencies, companies, schools and other organizations threaten to deepen its consequences and overwhelm medical facilities in the weeks ahead.

Our highway traffic jams have vanished. Caltrain is operating with fewer passengers than on holidays. Airlines are rapidly cutting their schedules. Conferences, sporting events, nonprofit fundraisers are being canceled or severely downsized. Restaurants are serving a fraction of their normal numbers of customers. Stanford is directing its undergraduates to stay away from campus spring quarter.

Throughout the region, there are an increasing number of examples of aggressive steps being taken, often at great cost, to minimize risks to employees, seniors, students and the general public.

That is the "good" news.

But the potential magnitude of the impacts of the new coronavirus and its rate of progression based on what is happening around the world, in New York and in Washington state call for local leaders to do more and to establish more specific guidelines and expectations. Even small delays in implementing more stringent measures will amplify the looming medical challenges in the days and weeks ahead. The rapid escalation of the problem in Italy, which on Feb. 21 had 17 cases and on Wednesday was reporting 12,462 cases in spite of imposing extreme restrictions unthinkable just days ago, is a warning to us of where we might be in another three weeks.

To its credit, Santa Clara County, with 48 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, including at least 21 community spread cases and one death, became the first in the country earlier this week to take an obvious but bold first step to ban any gathering of more than 1,000 people. But now, just days later, that order seems grossly inadequate. New developments, which include increasing appeals by health officials and the declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization, are happening so rapidly that official guidance to the public can't keep up. And inconsistencies abound.

The county's action has triggered other public agencies, including the city of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Unified School District, to cancel or limit most gatherings of more than 100 people, yet more than 12,000 Palo Alto public school students are in close contact with each other in classes every day.

The inconsistency of decisions by public and private schools on closures sends a confusing message to the public, just as do the decisions by some organizations not to cancel lectures, meetings and performances. For example, Kepler's has canceled its author events, but the Art Center is continuing with its classes. Some service organizations, such as Palo Alto Rotary, are suspending their weekly meetings. Some groups are waiting for COVID-19 cases to surface before acting, ignoring the fact that doing so will expose many more to danger.

Decisions to cancel events often carry with them large economic hardships, and this is one place where city, county and state governments should be coupling mandatory cancellations with some type of financial assistance so organizations are able to get relief.

More than anything, city and county officials must heed the advice of infectious disease experts who are sounding the alarm that urgent steps need to be taken now to reduce all unnecessary person-to-person contact in order to slow the exponential growth of infection. We are lucky to live next to the brand new and expanded Stanford Hospital, but even it is not equipped to handle the number of cases that could develop here in a matter of weeks.

Palo Alto declared a local state of emergency Thursday and the school board was to hold an emergency meeting late Thursday (after our deadline) to consider new steps. These are encouraging signs. Wednesday night's new guidelines from state health officials, which call for no gatherings of more than 250 people and events with fewer than 250 permitted only if social distancing of at least 6 feet per person can be achieved, should be immediately implemented locally. In practice, this will halt virtually all in-person meetings and events, including weddings, church services, lectures and performances at least through the end of March.

The public is eager to follow, but leaders must lead. Acting more forcefully now to slow the inevitable spread over the weeks ahead will increase the chances that those who are struck with serious cases will receive the medical help they need.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.


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21 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2020 at 8:12 am

The superintendent said yesterday at the emergency school board meeting that the school district job is not to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus, even the CDC does not set this as its goal (per Palo Alto on line report). This reminds us of what officials did in Wuhan before the outbreak of the Coronavirus: trying to maintain the normalcy of daily life facing the fast changing and extremely aggressive new virus. PAUSD parents need to work harder to push for safer schools! Sanitary measures help, but on line learning is the most effective way to achieve social distancing. Unfortunately, the email sent to parents indicate the alternative materials for kids choosing to stay home are limited. There is NO information about on line learning. Our school board and the superintendent need to ACT, not just TALK.

2 people like this
Posted by Who Do We Believe?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 13, 2020 at 9:03 am

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2020 at 9:52 am

Parents, our public library websites provide abundant great K-16 online learning resources. The Santa Clara County library system www.sccld.org has more resources than the Palo Alto city library. You may get an account from the Los Altos public library to access all the resources, including the following:

The Great Courses series have excellent English, history, math and science courses.
Lynda.com has awesome short courses on grammar, writing, and coding.
Universal Class offers many excellent math and science courses.
Abcmouse.com may satisfy the needs of K-6 kids.
Brainfuse, LearningExpress Library, and Universal Class all offer abundant test prep exercises for SAT, ACT, and other major tests.

From the library websites, you may get one-on-one live tutoring services on all grades and all major subjects daily through Brainfuse.

Please visit www.studibee.org for more details.

20 people like this
Posted by We need more kindness
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 13, 2020 at 10:43 am

I would like to see more kindness and generosity of spirit among everyone here. Some of the threads on this site are revealing. This time of difficulty seems to be bringing out the worst in people. Everyone, you can do better. Please, take a deep breath, and be supportive and find ways to help, rather than tearing down people and institutions. Reach out to others, offer to share and/or just some kind words, stay informed, and try to be understanding. Everyone is trying, in their own way, to do their best.

30 people like this
Posted by Commercial renter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 13, 2020 at 10:53 am

Small businesses and non-profits (restaurants, shops, theaters, etc.) that lose customers or patrons will soon be unable to pay rent. Landlords and government need to step up to provide rent relief of some sort.

12 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 13, 2020 at 11:15 am

People's lives are in danger.

Btw PAUSD and Don Austin, if it's not PAUSDs job to slow down the spread of the virus,as @Member reports Dr. Austin saying in the emergency board meeting, why is it PAUSD's job to feed students and provide child care - such that it takes priority over the needs of other Pausd students and families? I thought PAUSD'S job was to educate students. Meals and child care are a by product of that mission, and so would protecting the community from the spread of a serious communicable disease be as well.

3 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Mar 13, 2020 at 11:20 am


How much rent relief do you want? A 20% discount for 3 months? What is fair to split the pain between you and landlord?

4 people like this
Posted by Liz Gardner
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 13, 2020 at 11:31 am

My heart is huge with gratitude for the entire PAUSD entity — every one of these “first responders” is on the front lines of our new normal and unknown. . You are a warrior in the face of crisis! I am one parent and I hope to God, not the only parent immensely hopeful and grateful for your work, commitment, care, love and generosity for all of our children and families - steady hands make positive progress. I am with you. I will support, follow, lead where you go. Carry on business Not usual.

14 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2020 at 11:36 am

The PAUSD School Board and Don Austin are putting lives at risk. This virus is dangerous, and kills young healthy people too - not just older people, as though that would make it okay.

Read this harrowing account of the experiences of two young health workers in China in the New York Times if you have any doubt.

Web Link

By leaving the schools open, they are endangering the whole community. Prior to this, I had no opinion about the Superintendent or school board, but based on this alone, how can anyone trust their judgement moving forward?

5 people like this
Posted by CheckTheMath
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 13, 2020 at 12:09 pm

The article said: "To its credit, Santa Clara County, with 48 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, including at least 21 community spread cases and one death, became the first in the country earlier this week to take an obvious but bold first step ..."

Here is something to think about those 'only' 48 confirmed cases:

"One signal to watch out for is if the first case in an area is a death or a severe case, because that suggests you had a lot of community transmission already. As a back of the envelope calculation, suppose the fatality rate for cases is about 1 percent, which is plausible. If you’ve got a death, then that person probably became ill about three weeks ago. That means you probably had about 100 cases three weeks ago, in reality. In that subsequent three weeks, that number could well have doubled, then doubled, then doubled again. So you’re currently looking at 500 cases, maybe 1000 cases."

6 people like this
Posted by 1918 Spanish Flu Origins
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 13, 2020 at 4:07 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Spanish Flu fantasies
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 13, 2020 at 6:30 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2020 at 9:21 am

There are s few things that I heard or thought about lately that we
should consider doing.

1. Some markets in SF are cleaning everything down during the night,
and then opening in the morning for a few hours only to high-risk
and older people to shop without being exposed to a huge crowd.

2. Markets and other businesses are only letting a few people inside
at a time.

3. Markets should post signs at the checkout counters to stand
back from the person in front of you by 6 feet if possible. Forming
a one long line perhaps cordon it off with rope and let one person at
time go to the cashiers which is the quickest and fairest way to
check out, and doesn't encourage people to push.

4. Also, put a limit on certain items, bread, pasta, toilet paper, etc
so everyone can get some until stocks replenish.

4 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2020 at 9:35 am

@Commercial renter if tenants don't pay their rent how will the landlord pay their bills? Mortgage, utilities?
Are you expecting landlords to carry the burden of supporting tenants and then lose the property when the banks foreclose on them due to not paying?


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2020 at 10:36 am

Posted by Member, a resident of Midtown

>> The superintendent said yesterday at the emergency school board meeting that the school district job is not to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus, even the CDC does not set this as its goal (per Palo Alto on line report).

I missed it, and, I'm still wondering exactly what he said and how he said it. If this really summarizes it, then, we need another superintendent. He must have thought he was reflecting back the PAUSD school board what he thought they wanted to hear. We've had two duds in a row, hopefully we don't have a third clueless dude.

Student health and safety has to be the first priority. First, as in, higher priority than the per-student average number of AP classes taken.

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The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

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