Much of the Thursday, Nov. 5, Halifax Board of Selectmen meeting was spent discussing measures to curb the spread of COVID both at the town level and within the Town Hall.
Board of Health agent Bob Valery told those assembled that there had been two new cases of COVID in town reported just that morning. Valery also mentioned Governor Baker’s new restrictions released on Nov. 2 and taking effect on Nov. 6. Baker’s guidelines include a 10 p.m. curfew as well as an order for restaurants and other establishments to stop serving by 9:30 p.m. Valery said he visited local establishments to make sure everyone would be adhering to the new guidelines.
Town Administrator Charlie Seelig added, “That order comes with you shouldn’t be over a friend’s house after ten o’ clock. You should be back in your house by then.” Selectman Gordon Andrews clarified that he didn’t believe it was an order, but rather an advisory. Co-Chair of the Board of Health Alan Dias said he was under the impression it was an order rather than an advisory. He also said that he didn’t believe it to be enforceable by the town. Police Chief Joao Chaves said he believed the enforcement of mask wearing and limits on gatherings to be an order while the travel restrictions were an advisory. For his part, Chaves said he wouldn’t feel good about pulling people over after 10 pm if there were no other violations.
According to Valery, Plymouth has hired an outside security agency to monitor activity in the town. Selectman Troy Garron wondered aloud about what kind of authority would be granted to such an agency. Valery said, “We’re not at that point here in Halifax.”
Dias asked the Board if they would consider a policy requiring a sign-in and temperature check for all town employees upon the start of each day in order to better aid with contact tracing. The Fire Department is already following this procedure. Selectman Tom Millias said it was “certainly something we can think about.”
Seelig agreed that the proposed procedure may help with contact tracing but clarified that it would not help curb the spread of the virus. Referring to a recent case in a town employee, Seelig said, “the situation we had earlier was more … employees making decisions that they probably shouldn’t have made. Not, in fact, who was in and out of the building.” He continued, “… if people had, in fact, stayed the six feet away and kept their mask on and such we should have been able to say, ‘okay, you weren’t within this person for 15 minutes.’” Regarding the proposed policy, he said, “We can do this, but the big thing is the behavior. It’s not getting a list of people and getting them checked in by 8 a.m. – it’s what they do after 8 a.m.” A reminder of proper safety protocols was sent out to all town employees with the last paycheck. Andrews said, “Seems like the protocol wasn’t followed, not that we don’t have one in place.”
There was some additional discussion between Valery, Dias, Seelig, the chiefs, and the selectmen as to whether residents should also have to sign in before entering the Town Hall. Dias said that Plymouth residents are not allowed into the town hall without first leaving their name and phone number. Seelig pointed out that residents don’t typically spend 15 minutes or more inside the building and therefore their information wouldn’t be needed for contact tracing.
The selectmen voted unanimously to put a policy in place that all town employees must wear a mask at all times and in all areas of the buildings unless eating or drinking. The only exception would be for those providing a doctor’s note for a medical exemption. Chaves said that since a member of the Police Department tested positive, all members of the department have been wearing masks diligently. “The next ninety days are going to be very difficult the way the numbers are going,” Dias said.
Fire Chief Jason Viveiros gave an update on a potential testing program in Halifax. Viveiros said that they certainly had the ability to do both the antibody testing as well as the nasal swab testing. He said that the big question would be determining the goal behind the testing. Of the antibody testing, Viveiros said, “There are plenty of communities that are doing the molecular level tests… how much money are we willing to invest into that?” The department is still working on a plan.
Annual Toy Drive
The selectmen also discussed the logistics behind the toy drive that is run annually by the Fire Department and the Girl Scouts usually on the first Saturday in December. In a normal year, Santa would ride through on one of the Fire Department vehicles. Viveiros said that typically about 6-8 people participate from the department with twice that many volunteering on behalf of the Girl Scouts.
While the majority of the event is outside, keeping people six feet from one another could prove difficult. It is an all-day event usually running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Seelig said, “however they do it, we don’t want a large group of people intermingling.” Viveiros said that typically the back of the Fire Station is loaded with toys and said that it would be important to stress that large groups of people cannot gather there.
The selectmen agreed that those running the event would need to touch base with Valery and decide on what restrictions would need to be put in place in order to ensure it is a safe event. The selectmen will approve the event at a later meeting after hearing the final plan.
The selectmen then turned their attention to dealing with requests that were submitted late for recycling abatements. The selectmen voted unanimously to reject these requests. Millias said, “this is all uncomfortable… this isn’t something that anyone wants to do.”
Andrews, who has not always been aligned with the other selectmen regarding whether to issue abatements, said he agreed that it was necessary to have a building available and a recycling program. He went on to say, however, “we’re acting like this is a tax, so if it’s a tax to keep the building open then it should be coming out of tax… if people aren’t using the service, they shouldn’t be paying for it, the other people should be paying the amount necessary to run the service.”
Millias said that there were a myriad of options to consider when deciding the fate of the current recycling program. Millias suggested the possibility of eliminating the curbside pickup and asking, instead, to have residents bring it directly to the facility. Garron said he would just like to see people alert the town if planning to use a private recycling company. Millias said, “at some point, I think even the fees won’t sustain the program.” The plan is to schedule a dedicated time to explore and discuss the options.
HOPS to get help
Seelig said that they had received correspondence from a resident concerned with some maintenance issues at the HOPS Playground. According to Seelig a downed bench would be dealt with as would some broken equipment and overgrowth outside the fence.