TEWKSBURY — During a phone call on Tuesday with Tewksbury’s Health Director and the Town Crier, several issues that the department is dealing with in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic were discussed.
Information is changing multiple times per day, and the town is working quickly to keep pace. According to Susan Sawyer, for a period of time, control of issues surrounding social distancing were left at the local level, but that all changed when Governor Charlie Baker gave the directive on March 15 that all bars and restaurants must move to a take-out operation or close, and banned gatherings of 25 people or more.
Sawyer said that her department has been on conference calls with the Department of Education and the State Health Commissioner in an attempt to discern how far reaching the measures are intended.
“There are many gray areas,” Sawyer said.
For example, as of this writing, gyms and hair salons are not included, nor are daycare facilities. That may change by the time the paper goes to press, but Sawyer said she is receiving calls from the community with all kinds of questions.
“We are happy to be busy and want to keep people informed and safe, but people have to use common sense and social distancing is the number one way to keep transmission down,” she said, echoing the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.
Sawyer has reached out to the Merrimack Valley Reserve Corps to answer phones if needed. The Board of Health is working with all other departments in the town, and on Monday, March 16, closed all town offices to the general public. The town has a list of ways that residents can access services via telephone or online, and these measures are a way to keep people safe and not exposed to others who may unwittingly be carrying the virus.
Sawyer said that the town departments are meeting every day to discuss events as they unfold. However, the last group meeting was held on Monday in the large meeting hall, with everyone keeping their distance. Meetings have now moved to teleconference, even within the same building. The health department, for its part, is suspending services to what is just considered essential.
“We have a COOP plan, Continuity of Operations Plan,” said Sawyer, “and are able to answer questions for businesses as we learn what the latest restrictions are.”
One of the areas in question is senior living. There are some senior living developments in the community that have dining halls. Does the restriction on gatherings of 25 people or more apply to them? These are questions that Sawyer is seeking clarity about.
“We’ve had people call us about their family members in some of these buildings, but they are not assisted living facilities, they are congregate housing,” said Sawyer, who recommends keeping in touch with elderly family members.
Sawyer did say that some stores are offering a shopping hour for those over the age of 60. Stop & Shop made the announcement that they will be open from 6 - 7:30 a.m. for seniors so that they may shop in a less crowded environment and observe social distancing.
The federal government is suggesting people use restaurant apps and order ahead, and even WGBH is planning to offer additional educational programming to help span the gap that is being left as children are kept out of school.
Sawyer does encourage anyone with questions to call the Health Department at 978-640-4470 and to look at the many online resources that the department has prepared at https://www.tewksbury-ma.gov/health-department/pages/coronavirus-resources.