With most of the world held in limbo over the spreading pandemic, and America in the throes of a heretofore unimagined reality outside of films and novels, we are all in New Fairfield and Sherman in a remarkably surreal state. Though many decisions are now coming from the state and federal levels, residents should know that town officials are watching out for their concerns in a myriad of ways.
New Fairfield’s First Selectman, Pat Del Monaco, reported that the Director of Health, Tim Simpkins “is monitoring information provided by CT Department of Health (DPH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a daily basis.” While Don Lowe, Sherman’s First Selectman explained that “We are monitoring State and Federal directives, especially in terms of emergency services. I am holding meetings with various departments in Town to check on their needs and comfort levels. I am in constant contact with our emergency services for suggestions and also to offer any help to them that the Town can offer.” Del Monaco said that New Fairfield is participating “in weekly conference calls with the Governor’s Unified Command and the CT DPH and local Health Directors to provide updates on the number of presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as emergency measures recommended by state agencies.” Both towns are communicating information through emergency alert phone calls, with corresponding information available on town websites and social media. Schools in both towns are sending regular updates to families, with The Sherman School committing to updates every Wednesday.
With a nationwide CDC directive to practice social distancing in place, so many norms have been upended. Del Monaco stressed that “At this time, social distancing is the most effective way for us to slow the spread of the coronavirus, protect vulnerable populations and reduce the immediate impact on our health care system. This means staying home as much as possible and limiting your contact with others.” The hopes of limiting the coronavirus’s spread though social distancing is an attempt to protect all citizens, especially vulnerable populations, such as elderly and immuno-compromised people. Social Services Directors and Senior Center staff in both New Fairfield and Sherman have active plans such as phone chains in place to check in on residents, especially now that the Senior Centers have closed.
Schoolchildren are home indefinitely, with a current mandate from the state of closure through March 31. And harsh realities have been uncovered of a divide between those who can work from home and those who cannot. “This is one of the hardest parts of this. There is an economic unfairness for independent contractors, food service workers, musicians, and many, many other workers who will see a dramatic short-term (hopefully) decrease in wages,” Lowe said. “I hope that they seek out help from governmental relief, but also, I hope they seek help from friends and neighbors. This situation is such that we have to lend a hand to one another. If you know of someone in need – offer to help. If you are in need, ask for help.” Dr. Richard Sanzo, New Fairfield Public School’s Director of Finance and Operations, pointed out that “The Department of Labor has published a Q&A on its website for any individual in the state who may be financially impacted by COVID-19.” There is also a food pantry in New Fairfield for residents who are food insecure which can be accessed through NF Social Services Director, Cindy White. Also, you can find information on twice weekly meal pick-ups for school-aged children at NewFairfieldschools.org.
Acknowledging the oddity of the new normal in most residents’ daily lives, some town officials suggest taking a pragmatic approach, with Lowe saying “Please use this time to get outside and enjoy nature – hike and fish. Spend time with your loved ones. Catch up on yard work and other duties that you have to do anyway. Live simpler.” Sanzo concurred, saying “Working together, we will flatten the curve. Wash your hands, engage in NFPS learning activities, read a good book, and use this unexpected time to enjoy your family.”
There’s a balance happening in the towns, between an attempt to keep business as usual and slowing activities. In New Fairfield, work on the two new school buildings has not ceased–Sanzo says “We have already transitioned many meetings with our architects, engineers, and consultants to virtual formats. If an in-person meeting is necessary, we are following social distancing guidelines.” While the school building Feasibility Study in Sherman has gone into a slower burn, with The Sherman School’s Superintendent, Jeff Melendez, explaining that “Our administrative team has shifted priorities to the needs of our students to engage in learning during this uncertain time.” Town officials recommend visiting their websites for up-to-date information on town board meetings as some will be occurring, while others will not.
In addition to social distancing, officials recommend self-isolating if residents think they may have been exposed to coronavirus and should call their healthcare provider if they are experiencing symptoms such as fever, dry cough, or difficulty breathing. Melendez explained that he has asked Sherman families to “continue to call and/or email the school nurse if their child is sick and/or exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus.” NFPS is being extensively deep cleaned, while The Sherman School is waiting on guidance from the CDC on best disinfection planning before the school reopens.
There is a lot of stress surrounding coronavirus that is filtering down to children, and Melendez pointed out that, “an important aspect of our work is to ensure the wholistic well-being of our students. Although we have not yet determined the best mechanism to support students who need it, I would like to ensure that counseling services are made available.” There are also a multitude of mental health recommendations that can be accessed through the social service departments in each town and at the state level.
Timing for school reopening is up in the air, but when The Sherman School does, Melendez says that they will be more relaxed regarding attendance. “The health and safety of students is our primary concern.” Understanding that normal life has been uprooted, that some families may be experiencing sickness at the time of reopening, or that there may be a population of worried well, he said “Our plan is to be less rigid in our policy, and ask for families to communicate with us regularly around student absences.”
It’s anyone’s guess when life goes back to normal, with estimates from a few weeks to a several month period, during that time Del Monaco recommends “that all residents continue to monitor reliable sources of information, including coronavirus.gov, CT.gov and the Town of New Fairfield Health Department Facebook page and webpage (www.newfairfield.org, Health Department) If residents still have questions, they can contact the State Coronavirus hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or texting CTCOVID to 898211.”
Though this is a bizarrely suspended timeframe for New Fairfield and Sherman, with an inundation of disturbing news, and remarkably trying factors for many in town, it is one that is infused with great hope that social distancing–which for many truly is simple as staying put at home, albeit with logistical hoops for supplies–will be a successful endeavor. One that ironically could metaphorically pull the town residents together for a greater good. Perhaps Lowe said it best with our interview’s parting advice to area residents, “Hang in there! Be patient and kind to one another. We will get through this.”
By Sarah Opdahl