WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen voted to back Board of Health decisions about COVID-19 regulations concerning food service and public gatherings as well as authorizing the purchase of ionizing devices to clean air circulating through HVAC systems in town buildings.
At the same time, Town Administrator Frank Lynam offered to discuss meat raffles with health officials and VFW representatives, and the board tabled the issue of motorcycle poker runs vs. rolling “political rallies” to its next meeting.
Selectmen also voted unanimously to extend temporary alcohol licenses under which bars may operate during the pandemic within the governor’s limitations. The licenses expire at the end of the month.
“The problems we have been facing recently have been compounded by a couple of events that have occurred,” Lynam said. “It has been a difficult time for every business that’s operating today under COVID. Most everybody is working with us — although they’re very frustrated about it. … But, at the same time, the Board of Health is really the deciding factor on what can and can’t be done under COVID.”
VFW Manager Al Rainey had sought permission from the Board of Health to hold a meat raffle, as has been allowed in Abington. Whitman health officials ruled against the request and Rainey brought the request before the Board of Selectmen.
“We’re following the guidelines,” Rainey said. “It’s an entertainment piece that were giving for outside and inside dining.”
He said the VFW is allotted 99 spaces for dining, arguing it is not an “outside event.”
Staff walks among diners showing the packages of meat up for raffle.
He accepted the health board’s ruling against his request until he noticed that Abington was allowing meat raffles, and asked again to determine if state rules had changed.
“The town has a vested interest in not seeing COVID blow up here,” Lynam said. “Wherever they’re getting crowds, wherever they’re getting a lot of people moving around and doing things, they’re getting infections.”
He argued having people walk around, selling tickets and taking money is a “high-risk operation.”
“I don’t disagree with you,” Rainey said. “Money is one of the dirtiest things around.”
“The why would you want to do it?” Lynam said.
He said they are a business that follows the guidelines, but does not have the capability to accept credit cards.
“Where is the level playing field between the two towns?” Rainey said.
“I don’t care what Abington does, Al,” Lynam said. But he did offer to set up a meeting with the health board and VFW to discuss the matter further. The VFW agreed to aide by any decision the Board of Health makes.
Selectman Randy LaMattina said Abington and Whitman are two different fields and the board has to support the Board of Health. He also said the cross-contamination posed by handling money between tables was a concern.
Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski agreed with LaMattina.
“I don’t question the Board of Health,” Kowalski said. “They know what’s going on in town and they take this seriously.”
Selectman Dan Salvucci said he trusts that the Board of Health does take things seriously, “but it’s not six months ago.”
Kowalski took issue with that characterization.
“It’s not six months ago, no,” he said. “We’re about to hit into late fall/early winter, and if you think things are going to get better — magically — then, you’re dreaming.”
“I’m hoping so,” Salvucci said.
Lynam noted a motorcycle event held over the weekend at the VFW, which drew estimates of about 600 motorcylists, in no way permitted social distancing when the maximum outdoor crowd limit if 50 people, or eight per 1,000 square feet.
“That stuff can’t continue and, I think if they heard it from the board rather than me or [Fire Chief Timothy] Grenno, or [Health Agent] Alexis Andrews, they might have a better understanding of it’s the direction we have to go in,” Lynam said.
Police Chief Timothy Hanlon also attended the virtual meeting to discuss events that require police presence and traffic control, that discussion was later tabled for further consideration.
A request for an upcoming poker run prompted the discussion.
Sunday’s America Backs the Blue run had started as a fundraiser for the Michael Chesna family but then turned into a political statement, Hanlon said.
“Our problems are two-fold,” he said. “The gathering that occurred Sunday was way over the [social distancing] limits, so you have to balance the right to assemble against any COVID-related issues such as not wearing masks, not social distancing and having a gathering over a certain number of people,” he said. The Police Department likes to be able to help charities with traffic control free of charge, but he noted it adds to the budget burden.
Hanlon said he would like to see a permitting process to help the department know what to expect, as some of the motorcycle runs sometimes come with no advance notice.
Grenno said the Board of Health had taken a strong line of no motorcycle runs because of the social distancing guidelines and concerns.
Lynam said he and Grenno met with WHRSD officials last week to discuss the systems, which generate ion waves that attach to the coronavirus in the air and kills it, as well as airborne bacteria.
“These things have been going gangbusters for the last 90 days,” Lynam said, noting W-H spent $160,000 installing the devices in the schools.
Grenno has received a proposal to install the devices in all town buildings for about $40,000, reimbursable through the Plymouth County COVID funds. They would be placed in HVAC vents — three or four would be required in some buildings — to help create a healthier environment and monitoring the air quality.
“It kills strep, it kills TB, it kills COVID,” Grenno said. “It kills all kinds of common, known viruses and bacteria out there.”
He advocated installation in all town buildings not only for better air quality, but for peace of mind, as well.
The manufacturer also sells the devices for home use, saying the only negative feedback they had received was from a man who could no longer smell his bacon and eggs cooking in the morning.
“It works that good,” Grenno said, adding that the schools also report a noticeable difference in air quality. “It’s just a freshness throughout the building.”
The devices have a 20-year life expectancy and reduce the frequency in which air filters need to be changed. Some filter grades are so thick, they also tend to burn out HVAC system motors.