Pandemic or no pandemic, town government provides essential services that must continue. By and large, those services have been available. All of the Boards and Commissions that make decisions that affect budgets, development, natural resource protection, recreation, and other functions have continued to meet on normal schedules thanks to technology.
While Town Hall is closed, services provided by Town Hall employees – building inspections, real estate transactions, zoning compliance, and monitoring and guidance on health issues, to name a few – continue, again largely through technology. Public Works continues to work, having put the docks in for summer boating and done spring clean-up and planting on town properties. They anticipate starting the paving season soon, dependent on supply of asphalt. The Drop Off Center is open for its normal hours.
The Library and Senior Center buildings are closed, but employees are providing services on a limited basis. The Library has a wide range of online resources, is doing online activities for kids, and will do curbside delivery of books. More information is available on their website (http://www.newfairfieldlibrary.org/home or by calling 203-312-5679. The Senior Center is offering grab-and-go lunches for those who qualify, has been distributing masks to seniors who need them, and is offering a limited number of courses online. More information is available on their website (http://newfairfieldseniorcenter.com) or by calling 203-312-5665.
While Parks and Recreation has cancelled summer camps because of the continued prohibition on sizable gatherings and the difficulty in enforcing masking and social distancing among children, the Town boat docks are open and staff has been hired to effectuate social distancing. No determination has been made yet on opening Town Beach.
Much of the Town’s attention is shifting to supporting reopening, starting with Phase 1 on May 20. New Fairfield’s Health and Zoning Departments have been working with local businesses and organizations to make sure that requirements of the State of Connecticut are met and correctly implemented. We expect some of our restaurants to take advantage of outdoor dining, while others will continue to provide take-out service, as they have been doing.
Discussions are underway about re-opening Town Hall after May 20. Personal protective equipment and social distancing, using limited onsite staffing, will be used. One impediment is ventilation. Given the age of the HVAC system in Town Hall, however, we may have difficulty meeting the State’s ventilation requirements. One approach being explored is requiring windows to be open. Services will also continue to be available online and by calling the relevant department.
Tim Simpkins, New Fairfield’s Director of Health, has been at the center of our efforts to keep residents safe. He and his deputy, Chris Chaber, are working closely with state and regional health officials to keep abreast of latest developments and make the tough calls on what activities can and can’t go forward. Mr. Simpkins emphasizes that as establishments and activities in the town begin to open up, hand washing, social distancing, and masks are more important than ever.
One unfortunate casualty of the time we live in is our annual Memorial Day Ceremony. Because the State prohibition against gatherings of more than five people will still be in effect, the ceremony will not be open to the public. We expect the New Fairfield Veterans’ Association to carry out a short wreath-laying ceremony, which they may live stream. We all regret that we will not be able to participate in this important annual observance.
More testing is now available and those who have symptoms should follow up with their physician for a test. Under Tim Simpkin’s leadership, New Fairfield has been performing case management, using school nurses who no longer have students to look after to follow up with active COVID-19 cases in New Fairfield. These nurses will be trained on the state methodology for contact tracking and will be in touch with residents who test positive for COVID-19 to document their recent contacts and then follow up with those contacts. This approach will be critical in preventing further spread of the virus as the Town and economy opens up.
Planning is also beginning for a mass immunization program once a vaccine becomes available later this year or early next year. Because logistics are daunting to make a vaccine available on a timely basis and in an organized manner to all New Fairfield and Sherman residents who want one, we’ve begun the planning process early.
We are all getting tired of our new normal – the extra duties required of parents of school-age children, the isolation, the empty shelves in the grocery store, disrupted work routines and paychecks …. But, we all have a lot to be grateful for – including the fact that the growth of new cases has slowed significantly. We need to stick with the hand-washing, social distancing, and masks. Be well.