WILMINGTON — To begin their meeting on Monday night, the Board of Selectmen received the regular COVID update from Health Director Shelly Newhouse and Fire Chief Bill Cavanaugh. Newhouse said the town is up to 14 positive cases and seven residents in quarantine. She later added that four of these cases are in the same two households, but there’s no link or age trend among the rest.
Chief Cavanaugh agreed that masks are a necessary safety measure that residents should be taking care to wear, not only for themselves but also for public safety personnel. He also commented on the final reimbursement efforts being made under the CARES Act.
The board asked about whether there are signs and mask policies for spaces like basketball courts and sports fields. Selectmen Kevin Caira and Jomarie O’Mahony both mentioned they’d seen people without masks recently in different town parks and fields.
“We want to get back to normal and get kids back into school — now’s not the time to challenge the things that have been working all summer,” O’Mahony said.
Newhouse recommended that anyone at a town park or field wear a mask.
Chairman Jonathan Eaton asked Newhouse if she had a recommendation about a few board requests to be considered later in the evening — namely, a request for Wilmington Travel Basketball to use the courts at Yentile Farm, and a request to change the Nov. 3 polling to only be at the Shriner’s auditorium. She answered that the travel basketball request is not a concern as long as they follow the guidance, and then Selectman Bendel congratulated the fire department on its new fire engine.
In regards to the proposal to move to the Shriner’s auditorium for in-person voting on Nov. 3, the board’s vote was split 3-2 after a short presentation from Town Clerk Christine Touma-Conway, Registrar Patty Ward and Mary Osgood.
The Town Clerk started by stating the reasons for the proposal: expanding voting capacity in a building larger than all the other polling locations put together, in case of inclement weather, and due to a predicted surge in voter turnout with the presidential election.
Ward chimed in to say that parking, access, and flow in the Shriner’s building are all optimal. She also implied that it may affect custodial overtime cleaning should any of the town’s schools be used as polling locations. However, Caira reminded everyone that Nov. 3 is a scheduled professional development day.
Newhouse agreed with Touma-Conway that it would be easier and more practical to use only the Shriner’s for maintaining safety and social distancing for the election.
Greg Bendel established that most of the residents he’s heard from regarding this proposal are opposed to it. Some of the reasons he suggested it wouldn’t be advisable are that the Shriner’s may be further away than the normal polling station and having to notify voters in advance of the change.
Selectman Caira referenced a part of the plan Touma-Conway explained where the town would have motorized carts available at the Shriner’s auditorium, asking how they would be acquired and paid for. The Town Clerk said she had been waiting to get approval before looking into it. Caira also expressed concern for having too many residents inside of the Shriner’s building at a time, even if the law allows elections to waive the 50-person limit.
Osgood pointed out the intention of the registrar is to have voters moving in and out as quickly as possible with more voting booths and not making anyone wait outside in possible inclement weather. Town Manager Jeff Hull said the larger venue makes sense given the circumstances and can be communicated out via reverse 911, mailed postcards, and other department mechanisms.
In terms of safety, Touma-Conway said that she had asked Chief Cavanaugh if there could be a paramedic onsite, and he said that they could have an EMT at the Shriner’s with a medical bag and a radio.
Selectman O’Mahony asked if any other building locations were considered, being a band parent who gets stuck trying to leave the Shriner’s after their concerts, and the Town Clerk said that no one had brought up any other building ideas. She went on to emphasize early and mail-in voting as options for voters who don’t like the new polling location.
When Selectman Caira asked the Town Clerk to detail the layout, Touma-Conway gave her best ideas but also said she hadn’t contacted the engineering department yet for help. After the 3-2 vote which ultimately passed, O’Mahony asked if the finalized plan for in-person voting could be brought back before the board perhaps in October with a reminder of other voting options available to residents.
Another board item affected by COVID-19 was the Wilmington Rotary Club’s efforts to virtually hold their annual ice bucket challenge. Rotary President Gregory Sadowski explained that the club is still active via their annual live auction and working with the high school interactive club on a community service project.
Former president Mike Burns also shared the club’s desire for a virtual challenge this year given the importance of finding a cure for ALS and the success of the challenge previously.
Burns hopes that members of the board and the community will participate and challenge their friends to give to the Angel Fund which puts all of their proceeds toward ALS research at the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester (theangelfund.org/donate).
He then joked with Selectman O’Mahony, who had recently posted a video of herself participating in the ice bucket challenge, wherein he perceived that the water wasn’t very cold and there was not enough ice in the bucket. O’Mahony settled the debate later when she brought her daughter onto her Zoom screen to establish that there was plenty of ice and cold water.
With the previous approval of the health director, the board voted in favor of letting Wilmington Travel Basketball use the courts at Yentile Farm Monday to Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. for the weeks of Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. Joe Maiella said that this would be a skills-based trial to help form teams for the basketball season.
While Wilmington’s school gyms are out of the question, he said the high school basketball court would limit them to 20 athletes per court, when at Yentile Farm they could get up to 40 with appropriate social distancing.
The board’s next meeting will be on Sept. 28 at the Town Hall auditorium.