By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard, department heads, and the Town Administrator had a message to the public at the Selectboard meeting on Monday, 4/13/20: Town Hall may be closed, but the town is open for business.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic criss, town boards and committees have been meeting and conducting business, using remote technology like Zoom and conference calling.
The board used the powers of the Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, the board voted to extend the real estate tax deadline to June 1 (from May 1); extended the deadline for tax exemptions and deferral applications to June 1 (from April 1); waived the penalties and interest on late payment of bills until June 30.
The board also met, remotely, with “frontline departments,” including the health department, police and fire.
Town Administrator Mark Rees said he asked them to update the board on the town’s response to the pandemic. Mr. Rees thanked the employees “out there saving lives,” and thanked the residents for keeping to the guidelines set by the state for social distancing, and staying at home except for essential trips.
He thanked town hall employees for conducting the town’s business under the circumstances.
The building is closed to the public, and not all employees are working at the same time. But the public is still able to conduct most regular business. Resi-dents should call the departments they need to find out how to get what they need.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles K. Murphy, Sr., began by introducing Health Agent and incident commander Mary Freire-Kellogg, who joined the meeting via Zoom.
“She’s having a busy time,” said Mr. Murphy.
“It’s been a rough time,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg, adding that she could not even tell everybody how appreciative she has been for all the help from different town departments.
“It’s been amazing to watch,” she said.
She said that her department and the Fire Department have made sure that the town departments have gloves, sanitizers, and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We’re coming up on the worst part of this,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg.
She encouraged everyone in the public to wear a mask, and said people can get instructions on making their own on the Board of Health website (https://www. fairhaven-ma.gov/board-health); she encouraged hand washing and social distancing (staying at least six feet away from each other).
She also cautioned that people are under the impression that it is only older people and people with compromised health who are at risk from COVID-19, but anyone can get the virus and die from it.
The BOH page has a special section for COVID-19 (https://www. fairhaven-ma.gov/board-health/news/coronavirus) that now includes mental health resources, information on food insecurity, such as a food bank list.
“Most of our population is out of work,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg. “Money is running short.”
She said her department received two grants of $7,500 from the state to combat COVID-19. She said she and the BOH discussed using the second grant for a mailer to all residents.
The town has had 35 cases total, she said, but by press time it had increased to 36 cases, 11 of them active cases being followed by the public health nurse. Fairhaven has had two confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
“We are all in this together,” said Ms. Freire-Kellogg. “And I really appreciate everyone’s help on this.”
She said it has been a long road, but it will be longer.
“We just have to stay on the path,” she said.
Board member Bob Espindola said there have been some problems with crowding on the bike path. Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she has signs about social distancing and is happy to get more out there.
Board member Dan Freitas said his advice is for everyone to stay home. He said he had a medical incident recently and he was on a ventilator for 24 hours, although he did not test positive for COVID-19.
“Stay home, stay safe,” said Mr. Freitas. “Only go out if you really need to.”
Fire Chief Timothy Francis said his department was “holding its own.”
He had one Firefighter out, who was quarantined, but he has returned to work.
The department received a supply of masks and gowns, he said, and he feels comfortable that they have enough.
They have received an increase of calls for flu-like symptoms, and he is making sure paramedics are protected.
“We’re doing fine,” said Chief Francis.
Mr. Espindola noted that there has been a national outpouring of support for first responders, but that it was “good to recognize them right here at home.”
He said they are living the danger every day, and people appreciate everything they do.
Mr. Freitas also chimed in, saying they run an “A-1 operation.”
“I can’t be prouder of the guys there,” said Mr. Freitas, admitting that he did not remember much about Fairhaven paramedics “scooping” him up. But he heard about it and own them some dinner, he said.
He also added that seeing it from inside the hospital was “scary just to be around it.”
“I can’t thank you guys enough,” said Mr. Freitas. “God bless you guys. I don’t have the words.”
Chief Francis also told the board that the public has been good, taking stuff to the station, such as home made masks.
“I think the people in the town of Fairhaven get it,” said Chief Francis. “The public deserves a little praise too.
He said he believed the message was getting out about the things people need to do to stay safe.
Mr. Murphy said the fire department had a full plate, but they have “proven yourself to be the strong crew that you are.”
Fairhaven police chief Michael Myers said his officers were out there “working really hard,” and he wanted to thank them for their cooperation in uncertain times.
It is a different kind of policing, said the chief, with the majority of the calls being about social distancing. But the public has “been good,” he said.
People have been out enjoying themselves, and that is okay, but people need to observe social distancing.
“For the most part, the public is cooperating very well,” said Chief Myers.
He also said the department changed to two shifts, not three, to minimize the number of officers working at one time. The same group is on all the time, he said.
At the station they have been taking temperatures, doing a lot of disinfecting of both the building and the cruisers, and trying to isolate as much as possible inside the station.
All officers have masks, gloves, glasses, “and are supposed to be using them,” said the chief.
“For now, things are going pretty good,” he said.
The board also heard from Council on Aging Director Anne Silvia, and Board of Public Works superintendent Vinnie Furtado.
Ms. Silvia told the board that she saw an increase in her Meals on Wheels sign-ups. She has received donations that she is using to put together “essential bags” for seniors; and has gift cards to Stop & Shop that she will also be giving out.
Volunteers have already delivered food to 50 seniors, she said, because people are not able to go to the senior center, so she has taken the food to them.
She said she had to take the vans off the road, because her drivers are in the high-risk group due to their ages. She is looking at a way to use Lyft rides to get people to their essential appointments.
Ms. Silvia got emotional as she related a stor of one of the volunteers who delivered Easter meals and came across a man who asked where his was. He was a Meals on Wheels patron and he did not understand. The volunteer went home and packaged up a meal and took it to the man.
“And I’m just so grateful to him for that,” said Ms. Silvia. It was such a nice thing to do.”
She said if seniors need anything from the pharmacy or grocery store, she will try to get it for them, just call the center, 508-979-4029.
“Anne is the heart and soul of our Council on Aging,” said Mr. Freitas.
“You’re the best director we’ve had,” said Mr. Murphy, adding that he has gotten calls from seniors she has helped.
Mr. Furtado told the board that the various public works superintendents are working every day, and crews are out working.
They have, however, instituted a half on and half on-call protocol, week to week. That way, if one crew gets quarantined, they have the other crew to take over.
He said they are getting a lot of recycle center renewals by mail.
“We’re closed to the public, but still open for business,” said Mr. Furtado, noting that Mr. Rees said it first.
Derek Frates also got a shout-out. The Director of Cable Access TV, he has been responsible for getting the town’s remote capability working.
“I want to thank Derek for his efforts,” said Mr. Espindola, noting that he sets up tests in advance to make sure it all works. “I know he’s there a lot.”
Resident Karen Vilandry joined the meeting, and noted that a recent study found that COVID-19 can travel 15 feet, so maybe the six feet recommended for social distancing was not adequate. The study also noted that the virus can travel on shoes.
“I thought it was a bit alarming to say the least,” said Ms. Vilandry.
She also asked if they could get the health agent to post the number of deaths on the website.
Ms. Freire-Kellogg said she was going by the state guidelines, which do not require it. She said if they change the guidelines, she will do it.
Deputy Fire Chief Todd Correia also outlined the new RAVE Communications System that allows alerts to the public via email, text, and phone. Residents can sign up on the fire departments website at https://www.fairhaven-ma.gov/fire-department-ems-ema
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