Two weeks ago, the towns of Manchester-by-the-Sea and Essex each declared states of emergency and closed public access to parks and beaches as a public safety measure against the spread of COVID-19. Manchester-by-the-Sea reported its first resident has tested positive for the virus and Essex had confirmed three cases of COVID-19.
As of April 6, there were 13,837 cases of COVID-19 reported in Massachusetts—up from 11,736 the day before—with 1,653 of them in Essex County. Massachusetts has been conducting approximately 5,000 tests per day on average.
Town officials and Boards of Health have been preparing for weeks and sharing information from guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control on appropriate precautions for stemming the spread of the virus. Social distancing. No more than 10 people to any gathering. When possible, stay home, especially as the virus is set to his its peak nationally between April 10 and April 20.
Closing town parks, beaches and personal care businesses became moot when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Monday directed the Dept. of Public Health to issue a state-wide “stay at home” advisory through May 6. All non-essential businesses will be closed for this period and residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities during this period.
Locally, essential businesses include Crosby's Market, Allen's Pharmacy, Manchester Hardware, The Manchester Cricket, Harrigan's Liquor Store. Other businesses have adapted to new safety guidelines by limiting hours and adjusting delivery of products and services to take out for restaurants (that now includes wine and beer sales with takeout orders); concierge and online shopping for clothing and gift stores, and gift card purchases for later use.
“That is our best strategy for pushing back on this virus,” said MBTS Town Administrator Greg Federspiel, who with BOH members are conferencing with state medical experts daily. “This is all being done to lower that infection rate in the next three or four weeks.” If everyone is compliant on social distancing behavior, he said, “we have a good chance of pushing (the COVID-19 rates) back.”
For Erin Kirchner, Essex Board of Health administrator for the Town of Essex, is more direct:
“A stay at home order really means stay at home,” she said Tuesday. Essex has one part-time nurse for its department of health that works five hours a week, she said, and the sustained diligence of required tracking and follow up is a challenge, but critical.
“There is a lot of follow up required for every case, with two weeks of monitoring and surveillance on top of follow up with anyone who had close contact with the individual.”
For Manchester or Essex, the declaration of a State of Emergency enables the towns to take additional steps to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to protect the health and welfare of the people of Manchester and broadly allows town officials to expedite the use of resources to protect residents, such as accessing monies for emergency expenditures or limit operating hours and access to public buildings.
The move is "about public safety," said Selectman Arthur Steinert in the town's first virtual meeting. He pointed out that Manchester's largest demographic is over age 50 and devoting public safety resources on managing compliance on a half-measure could very well compromise police and first-responder resources the town may need later. “I would lean on the side of heavy precaution at this point," he said.
The MBTS and Essex SOEs will continue until further notice is given.
Schools in the Manchester-Essex district closed on March 13 and will remain closed until through May. Essential businesses that are allowed to be operational include grocery and pet food stores, banks (although nearly all banks have relegated retail banking to drive-through service and all are directing customers to use online banking or ATM machines). Food establishments may only provide take-out and delivery options. Town Hall and all other town buildings continue to be closed to the public, but available by phone and email.
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