Town departments shift in response to COVID surge

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Town offices, such as the police department, can institute a mask requirement if they so choose in response to the rising COVID cases. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

In recent weeks, several town departments have adopted changes as the number of COVID cases continues to rise.

In North Attleborough, cases have exceeded numbers seen this time last year. In December, 851 cases were reported, with an additional 249 thus far in January. The town has a positivity rate of 20 percent and there are 202 current infectious cases.

North Schools have seen a number of new cases and currently stands at 50 as of Dec. 22, increased from 36 at the end of November. Superintendent John Antonucci said this has been a challenging time for the schools, as coverage for teachers out sick has been difficult. Finding available substitute teachers is historically difficult, and the pandemic has only compounded this.

The good news is we caught a number of cases due to the test kits being made available,” he said. “It’s been a really challenging week—hopefully it won’t last too much longer.”

Fire Chief Christopher Coleman said there have been delays in getting all personnel their booster shots, and some have had to isolate after getting COVID. Others have stepped up and as a result all shifts have been fully staffed.

I’m very proud and thankful,” he said.

According to Mayo Clinic’s COVID tracker, Bristol County is seeing more than 1,100 cases daily. In total, the county has seen more than 117,000 cases and the statewide positivity rating stands at 14 percent, a significant increase from three months ago when it was only 2 percent.

Town Manager Michael Borg said North Attleborough is following the governor’s mask advisory. Those departments with their own building can make masks required, as the police department has done.

We’re looking at the numbers,” said Borg. “We’re monitoring it.”

At this time there has been no discussion on closing Town Hall, but some communities have taken that step, such as Seekonk. On Jan. 3, it was announced that due to COVID-related staffing shortages, all municipal buildings would be closed to the public for January. If too many North Attleborough municipal employees are diagnosed with COVID-19, however, something similar could happen.

We haven’t had to close anything, but we cannot rule it out,” said Borg.

Many departments offer some online options, such as applying for permits. At this time, municipal meetings are continuing on an in-person basis and Borg said some, such as one for department heads, may be done virtually.

It factors into the decision-making,” he said. “What’s the best decision to make to provide services.”

Some departments have already announced temporary changes. The Senior Center canceled all its in-person programming and switched to Zoom versions for the first two weeks of January. For several months the center had seen in-person events such as Chair Yoga and ukelele lessons.

We are hopeful that this will reduce the spread and we anticipate returning to in-person programs/activities on Tuesday, Jan. 17,” wrote Council on Aging Executive Director Pamela Hunt in an announcement.

Earlier this month the library canceled its children’s story times and meetings of its knitting group for all of January.

The animal shelter recently announced that it would suspend its Wednesday evening hours and revert to the appointment-only basis it held during the early days of the pandemic.