It was exactly two months after Town Hall closed to foot traffic on March 13, that First Selectman Beth Heller first brought up the prospect of an eventual re-opening. Well, she didn’t actually announce a relaxing of social distancing, rather than putting the safety committee to work trying to figure out how municipal offices can open with safe practices in place.
“We continue to take every precaution to make sure that our staff are safe while they complete their duties to keep our town running,” she said at the May 11 selectmen’s meeting. “We are now working toward a plan to perhaps begin the slow and deliberative work to think about how to begin reopening our Town Hall.”
Since the numbers of confirmed cases and of deaths from Covid-19 had not increased in three days, she felt it was time to prepare for the next phase. Police Chief Frank Cappiello on May 13 reported 96 confirmed cases in Woodbridge, with 28 deaths, of which 26 were associated with patients at the extended care and nursing facilities.
The governor’s office on May 13 meanwhile published a list of cases reported from nursing homes and assisted living facilities around the state, which would put the Woodbridge count slightly higher. According to that table, The Willows, a nursing home, had 59 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 14 deaths, with another four probable deaths; the two assisted living facilities, Coachman Square (6 cases, with 2 confirmed deaths and one probable death from the disease) and The Linden (32 cases with 2 confirmed deaths and 4 probable additional deaths) fared somewhat better.
“We must proceed cautiously. We may re-open slower than other towns,” Heller said at the May 13 Selectmen meeting. “As we’ve seen during these last two months, our employees are devoted, smart and creative and we have been able to provide all services to our residents remotely,” she said. The transfer station is open, and the library and Recreation Department are offering a number of virtual programs.
The tennis courts and playgrounds; however, remain closed for now, as is the dog park. The walking trails at Fitzgerald Tract are open, but marked for one-way traffic, to allow people to spread out more. Heller said more people have been walking the cart paths at the former Country Club of Woodbridge, a less populated recreation area.
Summer camp canceled: The announcement was made later that evening that the Recreation Department decided not to run its popular summer camp this year, nor the basketball camp or wrestling camp. The logistics to run the camp were complicated and expensive, Heller said, starting with the problem of procuring protective gear for all camp counselors. Instead, plans are in the works to offer a virtual camp for kids. Families who had already signed up can email the department at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a refund or credit.
Concerts on the Green have been cancelled.
The new normal: Heller felt that people had settled a little more into the new reality, she said in a phone interview on May 15. The first few days of the lockdown, she would field a lot of questions about what is open and what is not. But now, most comments are about people not wearing masks or not adhering to safe distancing rules.
For Heller, personally, it means that there are have been no off days. “I don’t go home,” since work is conducted from home. Her days are filled with virtual meetings, phone calls and emails. Every morning starts with a call checking in with the department heads. Every afternoon they check in with the governor. When a conference call with the department heads failed one morning last week, Betsy Yagla quickly arranged for video conferencing. “I realized I had to quickly change into a more professional-looking outfit,” Heller said with a chuckle.
The Safety Committee, which Heller mentioned at the selectmen’s meeting, is a standing committee every town is required to have according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, explained Assistant Administrative Officer Betsy Yagla. Serving on the Woodbridge committee are Yagla, Administrative Officer Tony Genovese, Library Director Eric Werthmann, Human Services Director Jeanette Glicksman, Police Chief Frank Cappiello, and Fire Chief Sean Rowland; also Tim Anderson representing Parks Department staff, Bob Hauser (Maintenance), Cathy Trzaski (Building office), and Jim Franco (Recreation). Other staff members can be invited to the meetings, Yagla said.
The committee will think through issues that may not already be covered by Gov. Lamont’s guidance on how to reopen an office safely, Yagla wrote. “Since the Safety Committee comprises a variety of positions, departments and buildings, we thought it would be a good representation of staff views and concerns. We anticipate that they will identify issues and potential solutions to help ensure the safety of staff and residents.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent