March 19, 2020
Good afternoon. Today I want to talk to you about the nature of this unprecedented public health challenge and outline the steps the city is taking locally to protect the health, safety, and well-being of our residents.
I also want to talk about what this crisis demands of each and every one of us, individually and together, as we move forward to keep our people healthy and safe. We are not powerless, and we are not alone.
As of today we are tracking 4 COVID-19 cases in Newburyport and waiting confirmation. All 4 individuals are quarantined. There is no question according to all public health reports that we can continue to expect numbers to increase across the state and within our community.
There’s a lot that’s already been reported about the COVID-19 itself. The three main symptoms are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. This virus is highly contagious and over 10 times more deadly than the flu. There is no vaccine currently, and a person can be afflicted with the disease and show only mild symptoms. There is also limited testing, although we anticipate that an increase in testing capacity is coming soon. These factors – no vaccine, no testing, highly contagious, and potentially no symptoms, make this virus a serious public health issue because it can spread quickly and unknowingly. In addition, while many will recover from the virus, the older population and those with existing health conditions are highly susceptible to the disease and highly vulnerable. The virus can lead to additional complications such as respiratory issues that can be deadly.
The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic last week. Asian and European nations are on statewide quarantines, and some areas of the country have ordered citizens to shelter in place. While this is not currently imposed locally in Massachusetts, it’s clear the severity of this virus may lead to more restrictive measures and additional closures.
For these reasons, earlier today I officially declared a local State of Emergency for the City of Newburyport in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). By declaring this local Public Health Emergency, the City will be able to deploy the resources and personnel necessary to meet the community’s needs throughout the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The declaration will additionally authorize City officials to issue additional directives to the public as the situation develops. It also creates a formal mechanism for the City to be reimbursed by the federal government for its emergency response.
This declaration formalizes how we’ve already been operating during the past week and acknowledges many of the measures we’ve already taken in response to COVID-19. Here’s the actions we’ve taken to date.
Working closely with the School Department and Superintendent Sean Gallagher, we closed the schools for several weeks and extended the closure to April 6th as per Governor Baker’s declaration. We closed City Hall and city facilities to the public, including the library, Emma Andrews, Youth Services and senior community center, and suspended all in-person public meetings and all gatherings in public buildings to minimize chances of exposure. But we understand that your lives don’t stop so we are keeping local government operational but with minimum staffing. We are encouraging residents to utilize our online services but can accommodate urgent needs in person by appointment. There are many ways to access the library’s collection online through their website.
Our public servants are dedicated to their jobs and to serve our community, even in the toughest of times. We have taken measures to minimize the risk of our employees, many of which live in this community or in the surrounding communities. In addition to minimum staffing, we are allowing workers to continue working remotely. We have adjusted shift schedules to ensure that our critical infrastructure, including the Water Treatment Plant and Waste Water Treatment Plant, are adequately staffed with additional contingency plans. The shifts also allow greater flexibility for our employees, many of which are sharing in the care of children now at home or for elderly parents or relatives. Finally, our first responders are prepared, willing and able to protect our residents and respond to all situations. I can’t thank them enough; they leave their families at home every day to take care of our needs and will continue to do so during the COVID-19 situation.
We have canceled public meetings in the near term, but we are prepared to hold public meetings virtually whenever it’s necessary in order to keep the government functioning. The City Council swiftly and thoughtfully created policies to hold virtual meetings that allow for the public to attend and participate. We are working to make this transition to virtual meetings as smooth as possible.
We have taken measures to limit exposure and spreading of the virus in public spaces. It was a very difficult decision to close playgrounds, but we cannot risk the chance of our equipment transferring the virus to our children. Closing athletic fields to group games and gatherings is another way to limit the transmission of this virus. It was another hard decision, but the rest of our parks, the more passive areas including the Clipper City Rail Trail, remain open to allow the public to get some air and for exercise. But please maintain the 6 feet distance from others and practice social distancing when in our parks and public spaces. It is very important and I can’t stress the importance of social distancing enough.
We are locally abiding by the Governor’s declaration of limiting restaurants to take out and delivery only, as well as limiting gatherings to fewer than 25 people. We are taking this declaration very seriously to limit the spread of coronavirus, but are very aware how devastating this has been to our local restaurant owners and their employees. We will be working with the Chamber of Commerce, local business owners, state agencies, and our legislators to help bring relief to our business owners, service workers, and generally to our downtown economy. Even in these uncertain economic times, our businesses are stepping up and helping those in need, donating food, meals and supplies. Thank you for your generosity and for supporting our community.
Finally, there are many who are already suffering economically, and it will get worse before we see things improve. We are coordinating with our local nonprofits and have been organizing and reaching out to the community for volunteers and donations. Hundreds of residents utilize the Good Neighbors Help Sign Up managed by Youth Services which program connects those who want to help to those who need help, as well as to our social service providers.
Yesterday the Grab and Go Meals Program at Nock Middle School kicked off for Newburyport families, and this program will reoccur twice a week as schools remain closed. We want to ensure all of our students are nourished, and we are expanding the program to all families, particularly to seniors. Thank you, Pam Kealey our Food Service Director, and to your staff as well as Our Neighbors Table for organizing this effort. Our Neighbors Table will also be hosting grocery pickups in Newburyport and surrounding communities and we appreciate all they do to keep our community nourished. It is so wonderful to see how in only a few days our community has stepped up to help those already suffering from the effects of the coronavirus. Thank you to those who have signed up and encourage all to please sign up and get involved.
It’s incredible how dramatically all our lives have changed in just one week. Last Thursday our schools were still open and it was business as usual. This past week has been hard for everyone. Anxiety is high. Daily routines and normalcy have halted. For many, paychecks are gone and bills are piling up. Childcare has become a serious issue. And there are those who are alone and isolated from their loved ones. Let us all take a moment and realize that we are all affected, and together we can all do our part to get through these tough times and whatever this virus brings.
Coronavirus is in our community, and we can expect to see more cases. But we can all help to prevent the spread so that our health systems are not overwhelmed. We need to relieve the pressure on our health care system.
I cannot say it enough, wash your hands and sanitize frequently and vigorously. Clean and disinfect all surfaces. Always cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
If you haven’t already, understand and practice social distancing. Keeping your distance from others minimizing the chances of spreading droplets of this virus. Social distancing is extremely important. As spring arrives and the weather improves, people will be drawn outdoors but please do not congregate in groups and maintain your 6 feet distance. This is also not the time for parties, playdates, and get togethers.
Stay home if you are sick and isolate as best as possible to prevent infecting others. Monitor your symptoms and seek medical treatment through your primary care physician by calling and following instructions.
Remember, for our seniors and for those with existing health conditions this virus can be deadly. These are the people who raised us, taught us, coached us, protected us, served for us, and supported us and the greater community for many years. We all need to do our part to protect them. That means not becoming a vector and putting yourself in a position where you’re spreading the virus, perhaps unknowingly without symptoms. Preventing yourself from getting sick means one more crucial hospital bed is available for someone else who needs it more. Remember, it has been shown that many will contract the virus but not show symptoms, so do all you can to avoid this and practice social distance. Let’s all do our part and not put the vulnerable at risk. The actions we all take right now will save lives.
Flattening the curve is what we’re trying to do, and we have the opportunity now to reduce the impact of this virus locally. Flattening the curve will put our first responders and health care workers at lesser risk, will relieve the burden on our healthcare system, and will save lives. Prevention through hygiene, social distancing, and quarantine when sick will flatten the curve and get us out of this situation sooner and back to normal. I think we’re all looking to get back to normal so please help do your part!
Information will be critical in the coming weeks and we will continue to monitor the situation. We have an active line of communication with the Executive Office and are in constant contact with the Governor, Lt. Governor, and state agencies. As we take direction and coordinate with the state, we will make the best decisions possible, always keeping in mind our priority: the health, safety, and well-being of the citizens of Newburyport.
We will keep the public informed along the way. All updates will be posted on the City website. We’ve set up an urgent alert page that provides daily local updates and links to information provided by the state, CityofNewburyport.com/covid-19update. You can sign up to receive email alerts whenever we the page is updated. We are also actively using twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to disseminate information. Links to all are found on the City homepage. Finally, we have staff available to answer questions, you can call or email individual departments or call my office. We are dedicated to keeping everyone informed, to connect those who need help and those who want to help, and encourage all to be neighborly and work together to minimize Coronavirus in our community.
Now is the time to focus what’s most important in our lives – your families, our friends, our neighbors, our community. Keep them in mind when making decisions. This crisis demands that each and every one of us do our part to minimize the spread of this disease, to avoid putting the vulnerable and susceptible at risk, and to prevent our healthcare services from becoming overburdened. We are all in this together, so we need to work together. We will get through this together.
Make sure you check in on your neighbors. Call or facetime them. If you have time to volunteer, get involved. If you can afford it buy a card from a local business. Better yet, give that card to someone who needs it more. If you can stay home, please do so.
Thank you, and stay safe.