Because of an expected rapid increase in COVID-19 cases across Riverside County, Riverside University Health System – Public Health has reportedly ordered that all schools remain closed through June 19, essentially ending the school year for students and staff.

Temecula Valley Unified School District Superintendent Tim Ritter issued a statement on Wednesday, April 1.

“Please know that while we have been dealing with this potential reality on a daily and almost hourly basis, it doesn’t begin to lessen the impact we are feeling as an educational organization when we have to share it in writing,” Ritter wrote. “We want you to know that first and foremost, we truly understand and in no way can we mitigate the varying levels of emotions that we all are feeling as a result of this development.”

The Murrieta Valley Unified School District Administrative team issued a similar statement.

“This is difficult news to share as we all want our students back in our classes and our teachers sorely miss their students,” the statement reads. “However, we feel this is the best decision in order to maintain our commitment to safety and social distancing, and we know we will make it through this by working together. We understand how challenging these decisions are for our families and we appreciate your support and patience.”

Southwest Riverside County school districts have been anticipating an extension of the order and most have been working on plans to handle a myriad of issues including student transcripts, end of year activities such as graduations and promotions, student food and nutrition programs and more.

“It is our goal to do as much as we can to lessen the challenging circumstances for our students, families, and staff.,” Ritter wrote. “We need to ask for some time to receive guidance from the appropriate federal, state, and county resources as well as come together with our site administrative teams and local districts to solidify many of the unknowns.”

At 7:30 p.m. Monday, RUHSPH announced that 13 Riverside County residents have died due to complications from the coronavirus and more than 400 people have confirmed cases. 40 people have recovered from the illness.

The announcement came on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom stating that districts should focus on teaching students from afar because it’s unlikely the coronavirus will allow them to reopen before summer.

“The right thing to do for our children, the right thing to do for the parents, for households, for the community which they reside, is to make sure that we are preparing today to set our school system up where we are increasing class time, but increasing it at home,” Newsom said.

That means, he said, “fulfilling obligations through distance learning and other mechanisms to make sure that we’re educating our kids, but not doing so physically on the school sites.”

RUHSPH has predicted that by May 1, more than 1,000 could die from the virus with more than 30,000 infected in Riverside County.

“Our administrators, teachers, and staff have been working round the clock to create a distance learning plan specific to the needs of the students served by each of our schools,” MVUSD said in the statement. “We are customizing and creating appropriate learning materials, both digital and non-digital, for all students with guidance received from the California Department of Education. This is certainly a time for innovation, and we are proud that our teachers are collaborating with one another to deliver distance learning opportunities that will benefit our students.”

“We urge you to please take care of yourself and your family’s physical and mental health during this rapidly changing pandemic,” MVUSD said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com