The coronavirus continues to infect residents of Massachusetts. According to the Manchester Board of Health, as of October 28 there were four active cases in the Town, and a substantial number of the Manchester’s eligible residents remained unvaccinated. Therefore, pursuant to my authority contained in M.G.L. Ch. 39, §§ 15 and 17 to regulate the proceeding and preserve order, I adopt this Public Health Protocol for the Special Town Meeting to be held on November 13 at 1 p.m.
Check-in will open at noon. Although the Commonwealth has relaxed many restrictions on the conduct of town meetings, individual towns retain the flexibility to adopt their own standards. My objective is to implement all reasonable and prudent measures to protect the health of participants and minimize the risk of subsequent spread to vulnerable non-participants, while simultaneously preserving the deliberative nature of town meeting. I have developed these measures in close consultation with Dr. Martin Hahn of the Manchester Board of Health. The full Board was scheduled to discuss them at its meeting on October 28, but the meeting had to be cancelled due to the nor’easter.
LOCATION AND SEATING
The Board of Selectmen has decided to hold the meeting at the Manchester Essex Middle High School with primary seating in the gymnasium and additional space in the auditorium. There will be audio-visual connections between the two rooms, so that everyone will be able to see and hear the activity in both.
There will be pairs of chairs in the gym for members of the same household with six feet between each pair. There will be additional seating in the auditorium, primarily for individuals, with at least two empty seats between each person or couple. The purpose of this arrangement is to maximize seating capacity in the gym while maintaining social distancing in both spaces. If filled to their maximum capacity with these distances between voters, the two rooms will accommodate more than 400 people, substantially higher than the attendance we expect and then the 275 who attended the Annual Town Meeting in June. The school will run its air handling system to maximize turnover.
As of October 28, the Board of Health reported that 81 percent of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated. That means that 19 percent have not. Those who are not fully vaccinated as of November 13 will be seated in a separate section in the auditorium. We will not ask for proof of vaccination but will rely on the honesty of fellow residents to take seats in that section.
I strongly encourage all participants to wear a mask or other face covering while checking in and at all times during the meeting, except when recognized to address the voters. Both the Town and the Regional School District require wearing masks while indoors. Although the CDC has relaxed its rule on mask wearing for those who are fully vaccinated, its most recent update continues to recommend wearing masks while attending large gatherings. Not everyone who has COVID-19 is symptomatic. Vaccination-induced immunity likely wanes six to eight months after the last shot, increasing the risk of breakthrough infections, especially among the elderly. Wearing a face covering reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others: each of us has a responsibility to protect our neighbors. I am continuing to encourage face coverings in order to respect those who remain vulnerable or who are anxious about transmission, and to avoid discouraging attendance.
Those who decline to wear masks will be seated in a separate section in the auditorium.
Participants are encouraged to arrive early since the check-in process will be slower than usual; early arrivals will help to reduce bottlenecks and crowding. Check-in will open at noon. There will be one check-in station at the Gymnasium entrance to the building.
There will be signs at the station listing the symptoms of COVID-19 and strongly urging anyone experiencing any of those symptoms not to attend.
While waiting in line, voters should wear masks and maintain separation of at least six feet from the check-in volunteers as well as from other voters, except for members of their own households. Markings will be placed on the ground showing six-foot separation. There will be a police officer at the check-in station to help maintain appropriate distancing. There will be extra masks available for anyone who lacks one.
To the extent practicable, volunteers at check-in stations should be recruited from those who have been vaccinated. They should be wearing gloves and face coverings. Hand sanitizer should be available at the check-in station.
When issuing voting handsets and any handouts, volunteers should place them on the table and voters should pick them up, while maintaining six-foot separation between each other. Volunteers should not contact voters by placing the handsets or handouts in their hands. In the event of inadvertent contact, both the volunteer and the voter should use hand sanitizer.
SPEAKING AND MICROPHONES
There will be stationary microphones at several locations in each room. A voter who wishes to speak should go to the microphone nearest her/his seat and, if someone is already there, wait at least six feet away from that person. When that person leaves, wait for a volunteer to disinfect the microphone and adjust its height. When the volunteer steps away, then go to the microphone. Voters should not touch the microphones. Wait to be recognized, then give the meeting your name and address.
The longer the meeting lasts, the higher the risk of infection to participants. Speakers must limit their remarks to two minutes or less. I encourage speakers not to repeat comments already made by another voter. I intend to conduct the meeting as expeditiously as possible while respecting the deliberative nature of the process.
We will vote electronically as we have at recent town meetings. My intention is to take all votes electronically. We will have two technicians from the voting system vendor – one in each room – to make sure it works properly. In the unlikely event that the electronic system should fail, votes will be taken by show of colored cards, with the outcome declared by the moderator in the gym and the assistant moderator in the auditorium. If there is any doubt at all as to the result in either room, there will be a hand count by the tellers.
For those in the gym, the restrooms are located at the bottom of the stairway, to the left as one comes down the stairs. For those in the auditorium, the restrooms are located between the two rear doors as one enters. Voters should remain masked and use hand sanitizer before returning to the meeting.
LEAVING THE MEETING
After the meeting dissolves, I will ask voters to remain in their seats and leave only when their row is called, whether in the gym or the auditorium. This will help to minimize crowding at the two exits and maintain safe distancing. Voters in the gymnasium will exit through the same entrance where they came in. Voters in the auditorium will exit through the school’s main entrance, which is closer to the auditorium than the gym entrance.
October 28, 2021