WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen, on Tuesday, Feb. 23 supported a “three weeks in the Green” timeline for reopening town buildings, including Town Hall.
The state has established a guideline of reopening municipal buildings after a community has completed three straight weeks in the Green level.
Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman met with the Board of Health to discuss their recommendations Tuesday morning.
“The consensus among the Board of Health members was that the town be three weeks in the Green level and that would be the appropriate time for reopening,” Heineman said.
Red indicates greater that 10 average cases per 100,000 and greater than 5 percent positivity rate; Green indicates less than 10 average cases per 100,000 with a positivity rate. There is a Yellow level between the two.
The average daily incidence per 100,00 people was 30.8 between Feb. 4 and 18, with a 5.33 percent positivity rate. Whitman’s peak for the second wave was hitting at the end of 2020 when the town saw a 62.5 incidence rate with 10.8 percent positivity.
Selectmen Chairman Dan Salvucci said he has had conversations with residents who have asked him when Town Hall would be reopened.
He said there are residents who cannot pay bills online or do not have checking accounts and need to pay bills, such as excise tax, in person with cash.
“I look around Town Hall, and all the offices are protected by [Plexiglas] shields, and employees are protected behind those shields,” Salvucci said. “The same goes for the DPW office — I’ve seen that.”
He said he has not been in the Senior Center or Library to see what changes have been made at those facilities.
“I do have concerns about the Senior Center and Library, where people sit around tables and communicate with each other, whether they are at a meal or at a book club meeting at the Library,” he said. “If we ever consider opening up the town buildings — which I would like to — we need to talk to the department heads and they would have to take some kind of action to make sure that their building is taken care of during the day, and [a custodian] could spray the buildings down at night.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson said he has heard a news report about the state aiming to reopen schools in early April and suggested that could be a good target date for the town.
“That might get us to that Green area we need to be in anyway,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to put a hard date on it but my suggestion would be that maybe we look to that timeframe for reopen.”
Selectman Dr. Carl Kowalski expressed concern over the town’s current incidence level.
“The fact that we’re still in the Red would make me really pause about getting too excited about opening the town buildings,” Kowalski said. “We have been pretty good about listening to the Board of Health and where they get their information from.”
He said if the three weeks of Green the Health Board is talking about coincides with the early April date Bezanson mentioned it would be fine, but that the town needs to take the side of safety.
Salvucci agreed that it should be up to the Board of Health’s knowledge before a reopening date is set.
Selectman Randy LaMattina asked whether Heineman has looked into whether all town buildings and offices have plastic shields in place and a supply of disinfectant wipes on hand to ensure safety as a plan is formulated.
“I do think there’s a few other things that need to happen in Town Hall,” Heineman said. “I would say, if the consensus of the board is three weeks in the Green, the board could take a vote on that.”
He said there are still some CARES act funds remaining, and such preparations would be an appropriate use for that money.
Selectman Justin Evans said he sees no reason to stop listening to public health experts, but noticed there was a period when the town was in the Gray area, which meant that the town — because of its small size could have been Green, but there was not enough data to determine that.
“Would you just run that by our public health experts and say, ‘Do you consider Gray to be Green?’” he asked.
Heineman agreed to ask about that, noting that Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director Timothy Grenno agrees with the three weeks in the Green rule of thumb.
In the meantime, Heineman said he would request that Town Hall offices post at the entrance the number of employees willing to go to the door to help people with bill paying, accepting voter registration cards or other simple transactions.
Salvucci said that, when a plan is devised, Heineman should meet with department heads to review proper sanitation procedures.
“We need to be safe,” he said. “We need to keep people safe.”
Heineman reported that all town first responders, who wished to be vaccinated, received their second dose last week.
On Monday, Feb. 22, Whitman received a small shipment of vaccine, focused on second doses for those who have already received their first, to get the new dose next week — after two weeks of requests had been denied.
The Fire Department and Board of Health have set up on a hotline to serve homebound residents (due to age or disability) eligible to receive the vaccine. These residents should call 781-618-9778. A small mobile clinic will be used to deliver the vaccine to the homebound. A reverse-911 call will be issued later this week to eligible residents to help spread word of the vaccine availability.
“The good news is that our incidence rate is going down,” Heineman said. “We are certainly still in the red in the color-coded system, but down from the previous week.”
Regarding the fiscal 2022 budget, resident Shawn Kain wrote a comment to the Selectmen that continuing the assessment compromise with Hanson for another year should be considered to ensure the schools have adequate funding.
“I sympathize with Shawn, but it was pretty clear last year, when we were able to get this compromise passed, that it was basically based upon using the statutory method this year in both towns,” Kowalski said. But he said he does believe the idea should be considered and thought about.
LaMattina, however, said that while he respects Kain he does not believe the town is in the position to subsidize the school budget this year.
“I would not vote for that this year, knowing that,” LaMattina said. “This is being played off [in some quarters] as we gave Hanson money. I don’t believe we gave Hanson money. I believe we gave our kids money.”
Salvucci also said upcoming capital needs such as a sewer main project among others, will also require Town Meeting actions.
The board was unanimous in their opinion that it is premature and counter to what was promised to voters who supported the compromise last year to support extending it another year.
Selectmen indicated they did not favor voting to eliminate non-mandated school busing for the sum of about $64,000 that could be saved, if it meant placing children at risk.
“The goal right now is obviously to get students back to school as safely as possible, not messing around with busing right now is a way of doing that,” LaMattina said.