The restrictions and limitations that the COVID pandemic has imposed on all of us are winding down. Governor Baker announced this past Monday, May 17, that all restrictions, including capacity limitations on businesses, will end May 29, some two months ahead of schedule. Mask wearing requirements are also being lifted with the following exceptions: riding transit (buses, trains, planes, etc.), visiting health and congregate living facilities and while in a school. Individuals who have not been vaccinated are urged to continue to wear a mask. The State of Emergency that Baker declared over a year ago is scheduled to be lifted June 15.
Baker lauded residents for moving swiftly to get vaccinated. Despite the initial struggles to have sufficient vaccines to meet demand and appointment registration software glitches, it is now quite easy to obtain the vaccine with many places not even requiring an appointment. All residents 12 years old and above are strongly urged to get vaccinated.
Manchester residents have rolled up their sleeves in large numbers. As of May 11, it is seen that 72 percent of all residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Looking at all residents 20 and over the percentage climbs to 87 percent. With the age just lowered to include 12- to 15-year-olds for the Pfizer vaccine, we should see additional improvement in our numbers. We are within the range of herd immunity, a great accomplishment.
Work continues with the state and our neighboring North Shore communities to establish vaccination clinics run by our local Boards of Health. The main clinics would be in Gloucester, Ipswich and Topsfield with “pop-up” clinics occasionally held in Manchester and the other smaller communities that make up the new regional consortium. This regional effort will remain in place for the booster shots we likely will all need going forward. In the meantime, Conley’s Drug Store has set up pop-up clinics at the Sacred Heart Church. Some 800 residents have taken advantage of this convenient option. Stay tuned for future announcements about local clinics.
With the lifting of the restrictions and the end of the declared state of emergency, we will see a return of more normal procedures for various civic affairs. However, there is a bit of a lag built into the transition. Our Annual Town Meeting will still take place outdoors on the football field come June 21. We anticipate moving to a hybrid meeting format for various boards and committees whereby board and committee members will gather in person here at Town Hall and residents will have the choice of participating in person or remotely. We first need voters to approve the expenditure of some of our cable licensing receipts on the needed technology upgrades. This will be one of the capital projects residents will vote on at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting.
With the rescinding of the emergency declaration, the temporary approval for outdoor dining goes away. There is a possibility that new legislation will be approved at the state level to give localities the option of continuing outdoor dining under an expedited approval process. Even so, with our narrow streets and sidewalks, and competing needs for parking spaces, we will likely only allow very limited outdoor dining where sidewalks allow, if at all. Outdoor dining on private property is our best option and could be pursued.
As we emerge from the grip of the pandemic there are lessons to be learned and adaptive measures that we will want to keep. It turns out that we can conduct much of the administrative work of the Town online. We will continue to improve our web-based services so residents can have the convenience of conducting town business from home. And Zoom meetings have allowed many more to participate in meetings.
The pandemic also provided lessons about our need for personal interactions and a reminder of the preciousness of life. Not being able to hug a loved one, or worse, losing one, certainly reminded us how important those hugs are. Saying “I love you” over Zoom has its limitations! To say the least, it has been a very challenging year. But the worst seems to be behind us. My heartfelt thanks to staff and residents for the fortitude demonstrated as we navigated the very choppy pandemic waters. I hope that as we regain our bearings, we progress to a new level of community spirit, civility, and appreciation of the good we can accomplish as we work together to sustain the community we desire.