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Coronavirus preparations ramp up

With the World Health Organization declaring a global pandemic due to the coronavirus outbreak and the number of cases across Virginia and the United States on the increase, local officials have been ramping up their preparations.

The Virginia Health Department, as of early Thursday afternoon, has confirmed 15 presumptive positive coronavirus cases, including two in Virginia Beach. None have been reported in the Western Tidewater Health District, which includes Suffolk and Franklin, along with Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. Gov. Ralph Northam is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. Thursday to address the issue.

Nansemond-Suffolk Academy announced Thursday it will close school Monday, March 16 “to prepare our faculty and staff for the possibility of extended virtual learning,” according to Karen Schompert, NSA director of communications and public relations.

Staff will use the day to make preparations and for professional development, and administrators have been reviewing the school’s virtual learning plan and said it would work closely with local officials to determine if and when school cancellations are necessary.

The Suffolk School Board has added a coronavirus update to the agenda for its 7 p.m. meeting Thursday.

The Virginia High School League has cancelled state basketball tournament games Friday and Saturday and will declare teams playing in Class 3, 4 and 5 co-champions. That includes the boys basketball teams at Lakeland and King’s Fork high school, who were scheduled to play Friday in the Class 3 and 4 championship games, respectively. Lakeland will be Class 3 co-champions with Cave Spring and King’s Fork will be Class 4 co-champions with Wilson.

“After continuing to assess the impact of COVID-19 and the recent cancellations throughout the sports world, we felt it was in the public interest to cancel our championship finals for Friday and Saturday,” VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun said in a statement. “While we understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our teams, we feel this decision is in the best interest of public health, including that of, most importantly, our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, families and fans.”

The region’s colleges and universities have also been announcing their plans.

Paul D. Camp Community College, with campuses in Suffolk and Franklin, will close to students and visitors until April 3, according to college president Dr. Dan Lufkin. All classes will be taught remotely beginning March 18.

Lufkin, in an email to the campus community, said all other functions of the college would remain operational, but asks that all business be done by phone, email or through its website. Faculty, staff and employees of the college will report to campus as usual, but all group activities, which include classes, athletics and other special events will be postponed until a date to be determined.

“While I understand that these changes will create inconveniences for some,” Lufkin wrote, “every effort is being made to mitigate them. … Those who are required to come on campus should feel confident knowing that every effort is being made to maintain a clean and safe working environment. As soon as health officials indicate it is safe to do so, we will resume normal campus activities.”

Norfolk State University is extending spring break for their students through March 22 and will reopen residence halls at that time. It will be moving classes online March 23 through April 6. Any university event involving at least 100 people has been suspended.

Sentara Healthcare announced it would limit visitors at its facilities, including Sentara Obici in Suffolk, starting Thursday. The new policies allow for just two visitors for patients in hospitals, emergency departments and outpatient settings. Visitors are asked not to come if they are sick with coughing, sneezing or fever, or if they have traveled internationally.