Gavilan cancels classes due to air quality

With “Unhealthy” air quality levels reaching south Santa Clara County because of smoke from Butte County wildfires, Gavilan College canceled all classes at each of its locations Nov. 15

Local school districts in Morgan Hill and Gilroy remained open with no outside activities, such as recess, physical education and athletic practices.

Community college students and staff were notified via “GavALERT” messaging in text, email and social media of the cancellations, according to Gavilan Public Information Officer Jan Bernstein-Chargin.

“Later this afternoon (Nov. 15) we will assess conditions and the forecast for tomorrow,” Bernstein-Chargin added.

For updates, visit gavilan.edu. For air quality updates, visit airnow.gov.

At Morgan Hill and Gilroy Unified School Districts, district-wide precautions were taken to ensure student and staff safety during the Nov. 15 school day.

“The air quality in Gilroy has moved into the unhealthy range. All students will be kept indoors throughout the school day today, including breaks, recesses, lunches, physical education classes, and after school programs,” according to a Gilroy schools message sent out Nov. 15.

“Athletic practices will also be moved indoors. Student-athletes should contact their individual coaches for scheduling and logistical information,” the message continues. “We anticipate the same schedule for all Gilroy Unified School District sites tomorrow, and will update you on the status of the air quality tomorrow.”

According to the Bay Area Quality Management Index, the Air Quality Index for Gilroy reached as high as 180 and was last measured at 174 for Nov. 15. Air quality within the 151-200 range is considered “unhealthy” for all individuals, according to the AQI key.

Morgan Hill schools staff posted a message on its Facebook page alerting families to the poor air quality and precautions being made at its district schools.

“The air quality in Morgan Hill continues to be poor from the Camp Fire in Butte County. We continue to monitor the conditions to ensure the safety of all our students,” it states. “Currently, all Morgan Hill Unified schools will limit outdoor activities including recess and physical education activities. We will assess conditions each day.

The message continues that: “Schools will remain open and will follow the advice of the Santa Clara County Health Department and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Please note that when the air index is ‘unhealthy’ (red) students are kept indoors.”

The Santa Clara County health department has advised residents “to take precautions due to visible smoke in the air.” Those precautions include: Stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside; and set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.

Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a dry, scratchy throat and irritated sinuses, according to the county health dept. Elevated particulate matter in the air can trigger wheezing in those who suffer from respiratory conditions, such as asthma or emphysema/COPD. County staff recommended that parents and school administrators check air quality readings before allowing children to practice outdoor sports while air quality is unhealthy.

“Residents may have questions about using masks to help with protection from wildfire smoke. The most important thing you can do is to stay indoors as much as possible when you smell or see smoke in the air,” according to county staff. “If you work outdoors or prolonged outdoor activity is unavoidable, and there is heavy smoke, certain masks (for example, properly fitted N-95 masks) can protect against harmful exposure.”

Bandanas and typical surgical masks do not protect against wildfire smoke particles, according to county staff.

Moderate conditions in San Benito County

AQI readings for Hollister remained in the 50-100 moderate range, according to San Benito High School staff.

With that, “outdoor sports of boys and girls soccer, any student-athletes with asthma or other breathing sensitivities are not prevented from participating, but rather encouraged to keep their inhalers handy, if needed, and limit activity as needed,” SBHS staff said.

“If the AQI is in the 100-150 range, then conditioning would be limited but necessarily cancelled,” according to SBHS. “The California Interscholastic Federation and Central Coast Section mandate that outdoor sports will be cancelled if the AQI is at 150 or above.”

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