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Sonoma County

Sonoma County now offers 911 texting in addition to calls in most areas

in News

Most Sonoma County residents now have the option to text 911 in an emergency, as part of a new service intended to help people with certain disabilities or anyone who might not be able to safely call for help.

Police departments in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Healdsburg launched the service Tuesday to comply early with a state law requiring every public safety answering point to have a text option by Jan. 1, 2021.

Anyone who opts to text emergency dispatchers just has to enter “911“ as the recipient for their message. Police advised the first message should include the location of the emergency and the type of help needed such as police, fire or medical.

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Sonoma County educators: Internet connectivity is crucial for equity

in News

When the coronavirus forced approximately 70,000 Sonoma County schoolchildren off school campuses and into virtual classrooms in March, the stresses were immediately apparent.

Teachers used to standing in front of a classroom of kids struggled to convey concepts via video conferences. Parents struggled to balance work and home-teaching duties. And students struggled to figure out a new way of learning, removed from their friends and classmates and far from their teachers.

Underlying all of those issues was the need for every student to have access to a steady and consistent internet connection. And not every student has it.

“It is shameful that in a county as prosperous as ours that we have families that struggle to get internet access,” Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Socorro Shiels said.

Shiels, along with superintendents Diann Kitamura and Amy Jones-Kerr from Santa Rosa City Schools and Roseland, respectively, were panelists Thursday night in a virtual community discussion on equity issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the move to distance learning. The forum was hosted by Los Cien, a nonprofit Latino leadership group.

Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest district with approximately 15,500 students, has offered Chromebooks to every student in the district, Kitamura said. In addition to 2,500 internet hot spots doled out last spring and this fall, the district gave out an additional 250 in a different network “because of the size of the district, some don’t work in different areas,” she said.

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Fires give wineries, hotels another challenge as summer winds down

in Business/News

In recent years, when wildfire smoke choked the air in Sonoma County, Clay Mauritson, co-owner of Mauritson Wines in the Dry Creek Valley, would close the winery’s outdoor patio and only host visitors inside the tasting room.

This time around, however, coronavirus restrictions on indoor dining and drinking have taken that option off the table. So after the Walbridge fire erupted in the hills near Healdsburg two weeks ago, Mauritson decided to close the winery to the public until Sept. 2.

That’s meant canceled wine tasting reservations and lost revenue for the family-owned operation as it recovers from a nearly three-month, pandemic-induced shutdown that was lifted in late May.

“We’re going to roll with the punches,” Mauritson said. “That’s what the theme of this year has been.”

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Giving blood an essential service during COVID pandemic in Sonoma County

in News

Yes, you can give blood while under coronavirus restrictions.

While some may have assumed it’s not allowed or simply forgotten about it with no bloodmobiles out, Vitalant wants Sonoma County residents to know it is open and eager to take your blood.

Vitalant, formerly Blood Centers of the Pacific, remains open most days at its donor center at 3505 Industrial Drive in Santa Rosa. The organization accepts blood, plasma and platelets. Appointments are not required but recommended.

“This is definitely one of the ways you can help,” said marketing and communications manager Kevin Adler. “Blood donating is an essential health care activity you can do.”

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Community Gatherings Offer Healing for Emotional Wounds After Disasters

in News/Wildfire Recovery
Photo by Ed Coffey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Flickr
Photo by Ed Coffey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Flickr

After the Tubbs Fire in 2017, Anabel Garcia felt on edge every time an ambulance siren blared outside her home in Santa Rosa, California. Sirens reminded her of evacuating during the state’s second-deadliest wildfire, which killed 22 and destroyed 5,000 homes. Flames reached as close as five miles from her family’s house.

“It terrified us,” Garcia said in Spanish. “But it was scarier having to go through it all a second time.”

She means the Kincade Fire, which blazed through Sonoma County last fall. Garcia recalled the roads being blocked for hours, preventing her, her husband and their two teenage children from evacuating.

At that point, Garcia, 46, considered moving from California to avoid living through yet another major wildfire. “It was traumatic, psychologically and emotionally,” she said.

To cope, she attended a convivencia, or community gathering, hosted by Humanidad Therapy and Education Services. Wildfire survivors gathered in a local park to discuss their experiences with a bilingual therapist over hot chocolate, coffee and bread. The therapist walked through deep-breathing exercises, stretches and relaxation techniques in Spanish. After attending these free group sessions for several weeks, Garcia felt better. She realized she wasn’t alone.

Continue Reading on California Health Report

Weather conditions aid firefight but diminish air quality for Sonoma County residents

in News
Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat
Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat

The buildup of smoky air in North Bay communities since Sunday represented yet another health threat for local residents, but for firefighters, it signaled the persistence of calmer conditions that have allowed crews to gain ground on week-old wildfires.

The dropoff in wind in the hills, however, has led to smoke accumulation in more settled valleys across Sonoma County and the greater Bay Area, posing a threat to children or residents with health risks, especially if they’re outside for a prolonged period or choose to exercise in the open.

Th air quality index rose as high as 152 on Monday, well above the 100 federal health standard for healthy air, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. A Spare the Air alert remains in effect through Wednesday, banning any wood-burning or fires both inside and outdoors.

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Where to donate unwanted items in Sonoma County

in News
John Burgess/The Press Democrat
John Burgess/The Press Democrat

As soon as the stay-at-home orders went into effect in March, people got to work. With virtually everything shut down, bored and restless Americans, between Netflix binges, started baking bread, planting spring gardens and fiendishly cleaning out closets, cupboards, drawers and garages.

There was one glitch in the act of discarding excess furniture, clothes that no longer fit and books that already had been read. All the thrift stores were closed. Online marketplaces on Facebook, Craigslist and NextDoor offered about the only outlet for offloading all that extra stuff. And for those with boxes of random belongings, listing things item by item was not practical.

Now there is hope for relief for those who have been holding on to boxes of items to donate. Starting in June, thrift stores have been slowly reopening, welcoming the fruits of the pandemic purge.

The options are more limited than they were pre-pandemic. No all thrift stores have reopened. Popular charity thrifts like Heavenly Treasures in downtown Santa Rosa, which benefits The Living Room support organization for homeless women, and The Assistance League shop in Railroad Square, remain closed.

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Public shelter space limited for Sonoma County wildfire evacuees during pandemic

in News
John Burgess/The Press Democrat
John Burgess/The Press Democrat

Shelters that in years past have provided refuge for Sonoma County’s wildfire victims and evacuees this week were replaced with so-called evacuation points as officials test new ways for serving displaced residents in the middle of a pandemic.

The 14,000-acre Walbridge fire west of Healdsburg and the 2,500-acre Meyers fire north of Jenner forced roughly 8,000 people to evacuate by Wednesday night. Another 20,000 residents were warned to prepare to leave their homes.

Those who already fled largely appeared to have found a safe haven on their own, so late Wednesday local officials consolidated shelter coordination at Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

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Handful of Sonoma County wineries evacuate due to wildfires during harvest

in News
Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat
Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat

The North Coast wine grape harvest has been thrown into uncertainty by an unusual August combination of extreme heat, rain and lightning that ignited wildfires forcing evacuations in western Sonoma and eastern Napa counties, including some wineries that shuttered in the midst of their busiest season.

Most notably in Sonoma, global winemaker Korbel Champagne Cellars east of Guerneville was ordered to evacuate Tuesday night just as it was in the thick of harvesting grapes used in its sparkling wines. It had its first pick on Aug. 3, company spokeswoman Margie Healy said.

“We heard from our winemaker as of yesterday that this was going to be a short and very intense harvest,” Healy said.

Korbel expected to pick all of its grapes by Labor Day weekend, now those plans are on hold. Crews of pickers have left the vineyards and the winery is closed. The company employs 320 people locally.

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Sonoma County evacuation points

in News

If you need to evacuate because of the Stewarts, Walbridge or Meyers wildfires, Sonoma County has made several evacuation points available to residents.

Residents may remain at these locations for a few hours while they wait to return home or find shelter. The Sonoma County Fairgrounds is open to house large animals.

The evacuation points are:

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