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Local and state health officials are urging residents to protect themselves and their communities from the new coronavirus (COVID-19). With Chester, Deep River, and Essex town halls temporarily closed to the general public except by appointment, all three towns’ leaders are aiming, as of press time, to move forward with town meetings using remote technology capabilities.
Governor Ned Lamont has extended both the municipal budget and regional board of education budget adoption deadlines by 30 days. It is unclear whether Chester, Deep River, Essex or the Region 4 Board of Education will deem it necessary to take advantage of the extra time allotted by the governor.
“It is not our intention to utilize the 30-day extension, but given the unknown duration of the COVID-19 situation, we may need to,” said Deep River First Selectman Angus McDonald in a March 19 email correspondence with the Courier on “We will do whatever allows for the best and safest public participation in the process.”
On March 15, Lamont canceled all public-school classes effective through March 31, later amending it to waive the 180-day school year to allow all public schools, upon re-opening in the spring, to close on their normally scheduled end-dates, if schools can provide continued learning opportunities for students.
In a written statement on March 18, Region 4 Superintendent of Schools Brian White informed the school community that “a technology centered approach to sustain instruction for students in the weeks ahead” would start on March 23.
The district also instituted a food security plan, offering “Grab and Go Meals” of breakfast and lunch, Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Chester, Deep River, and Essex Elementary Schools. All children aged 18 and younger are eligible.
In the statement, White also expressed his appreciation for the “strong sense of community” he has witnessed in his first year as superintendent.
“It is times like these that require us to lift each other up, and I am reassured by the overwhelmingly positive response of our three towns to do just that…It is our strong sense of community and care for one another that I have come to know as defining characteristics of our schools, our families and indeed the entire towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex,” he said.
For residents caught off guard in how to deal with a pandemic, for the Connecticut River Area Health District Director of Health Scott Martinson said in a March 17 email correspondence with the Courier, “Stay away from unreputable news and social media sources. Focus on taking care of yourselves and families. This will end eventually.
“Our country and state seems to be getting more unified and decisions are being made every hour about the next steps to keep this virus under control,” he wrote, noting that he and his “fellow health directors across the state are also working extremely hard to make sure all of the individual needs of our communities are met.”
Some of the most effective measures to combat the virus are simple ones, such as handwashing, social distancing, staying home when sick and covering coughs and sneezes. Other measures, mandated by local and state officials, are more disruptive to daily life.
“The biggest obstacle to this is people’s behavior,” said Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman in a March 18 interview with the Courier. “Up until last week, people were either denying that it was really an issue or thinking, well [personal precautions are] not going to help me.”
Needleman urged residents “to remain calm. We will live through this. How many people get sick and how many die are dependent on how seriously we take the guidelines that we are setting. This is serious and everybody has to understand that it is more than a minor inconvenience.”
Lamont, working with a coalition of governors in the tri-state area, has issued a series of executive orders to curtail activities throughout the state, aimed at limiting the spread of the virus and keeping the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed with infected patients. Restaurants and bars that serve food must move to take-out and delivery services only and, as of March 23, all non-essential businesses were required to close. (Find the state’s list of essential/non-essential business types at Zip06.com.)
“Even before they started closing things, many of our businesses just voluntarily said, ‘I will open my shop by appointment,’” Chester First Selectman Lauren Gister said in a March 17 interview with the Courier. “I am very worried about that across the state. These little mom and pop businesses, they just don’t have the profit margins, and this is really going to hurt them.”
She also added that although “we don’t know what emergency funding will become available, it’s really important that we protect our businesses as well. That is where my big concern is.”
Martinson pointed to the efforts of town leadership and staff to protect residents in all of the town’s that the health district serves.
“The selectmen, town managers, police, fire, ambulance have been working very hard with so many people to keep their communities safe,” said Martinson. “I am proud to be a director of health in these areas. We have excellent ongoing discussions and all our member towns are putting public health first.”
“The best we can do while scientists are working on a vaccine and [manufacturers] are trying to make more masks, the best we can do is follow the basic rules of staying away from each other,” said Needleman. “In Town Hall, the building is closed but we are letting people in by appointment. We are conducting business. The people that work for me are heroic. They are scared. They are working through it.”
In the wake of Lamont’s March 16 closure of restaurants and bars to sit-down patrons in response to the expanding COVID-19 crisis, local eateries have had to make tough decisions about whether to stay open for pick-up and deliveries or close temporarily. We asked food service establishments across the region to give us updates on their status. Find a list of new hours, delivery options, curbside service, and more at Zip06.com/open.
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