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City declares state of emergency

City Manager Patrick Roberts Friday declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, and city schools will be closed for at least the next two weeks.

In a statement, Roberts declared the emergency in advance of any potential impacts due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

“A state of emergency declaration ensures that the city will have the appropriate level of assistance and allows us to coordinate with the Commonwealth in our response and recovery efforts as it relates to any potential impacts from COVID-19,” according to the statement.

All schools in the state, on the order from Gov. Ralph Northam, have closed for at least the next two weeks, from March 16 through March 27.

Suffolk Public Schools had planned to close Monday and reopen Tuesday with adjustments to drop-off and pick-up points at schools that were to be in place through March 30. It has also canceled all afterschool activities until further notice.

“We know you may have questions, and we will release additional information as soon as it becomes available,” according to a statement on the division’s emergency information webpage.

Building rentals through the division have been canceled beginning this weekend through March 30. All events, including concerts, conferences, field trips and plays have also been canceled through March 30.

At Thursday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said that he has been in “constant communication” with region superintendents, the Western Tidewater Health District and the state Department of Education.

Because the outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the division has activated its Pandemic Response Plan.

Gordon said Thursday that the division was in the final phases of developing an instructional plan to include virtual learning for secondary students through its SPS Connect program, which has provided them with Chromebooks. Elementary school teachers had been developing instructional packets to provide students in the event of a school closure.

He said the division would work with its food nutrition department to develop a plan to feed students while schools are closed.

Many city events and other activities have already been canceled or postponed. Because of the volume of previously scheduled city events, it is asking residents to check its websites and social media platforms for their current status.

“City-sponsored events and activities are being closely reviewed and determinations are being made on a daily basis,” the city said in a statement.

Though city offices remain open, it is encouraging residents to conduct business online on its website — www.suffolkva.us — if possible. Otherwise, residents can contact individual departments or the city’s main line at 514-4000.

The city is also advising that those who want to attend the upcoming City Council work session and regular meeting Wednesday watch a live feed of it either on Spectrum Channel 190 or via livestream. The work session begins at 4 p.m., and the regular meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Suffolk Clergy United has canceled its remaining three community Lenten services that were scheduled for the next three Wednesdays — March 18 at Tabernacle Baptist Outreach Center, March 25 at Main Street United Methodist Church and April 1 at Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Sentara Healthcare, which operates Sentara BelleHarbour and Sentara Obici Hospital, updated its policy late Friday to prohibit visitors under age 12 and all visitors to nursing and rehabilitation centers, the assisted living village and PACE centers, including family members, contractors and volunteers. Exceptions can be made for end-of-life situations for the family to gather at the bedside.

For Sentara employees, it has eliminated business travel through April 30, limited meetings to 12 people and modified and expanded employee work and leave policies. On its website, Sentara said every attempt is being made to provide work-from-home opportunities for employees who are required to self-quarantine. Any Sentara employee who is required to self-quarantine or gets ill due to a verifiable work-related exposure to COVID-19 will receive emergency sick leave for up to 14 calendar days, above and beyond normal sick and paid annual leave.

Bon Secours, which operates Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View, is asking people not to visit its facilities, including senior services and long-term care locations, and for childbirth and pediatric patients, visitors are only allowed one at a time and limited to a designated partner or primary caretaker or guardian. It said exceptions would be considered based on end-of-life situations or when a visitor is essential for the patient’s emotional well-being and care.

Other local cancellations beyond those previously announced in Friday’s edition are:

4Friends of the Suffolk Library will cease its sales and weekday work days “for the forseeable future.”

4The city encouraged everyone to closely watch its websites and social media platforms for updates on events as they are reviewed and decisions are made.