Council cautiously expands allowed activities

Fri, 04/17/2020 - 5:45pm
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UPDATE: Anyone who may be allowed to return to work under the provisions of the newly revised emergency ordinance should fill out the following form:

http://www.new-shoreham.com/displaynews.cfm?id=440

“This is not a free for all, and it is being managed. This is going to work if people follow the orders; it is about the larger effort,” said Interim Town Manager Jim Kern during a Town Council meeting at which the council approved adding new categories to its essential work activities list. The vote was 3-2, with councilors Chris Willi and André Boudreau dissenting because they both felt it was too early to begin loosening the restrictions of the emergency ordinance in place since March 23. Councilors Martha Ball, Sven Risom and First Warden Ken Lacoste voted for the amendments, feeling that it was a controlled and manageable rollout to get some islanders back to work.

The council reiterated that safety protocols and measures for attempting to prevent the coronavirus from appearing on Block island would stay in place. The amended emergency ordinance begins Monday, April 20. During a discussion on enforcement and ramifications if the guidelines are not followed in terms of keeping workers safe, Ball was succinct in suggesting what would happen: “If this is abused, it’s over. We’re trying to get a measured response. This is very slow,” said Ball. “If you mess this up, you mess it up for everybody.”

Dr. Mark Clark, attending the meeting by phone, said he saw some potential areas where the new amendments could pose a risk, but said, “We have strict protocols in place… the caution needs to be what the guidance has been all along. If you do allow people to come to the island, they need to be following the guidelines of following what’s in place; we will continue to follow protocol.” Clark once again used the words “if and when” the virus may return to the island to caution that Rhode Island was still on the upward curve of infections. The council also voted to limit all social gatherings to five and fewer, in accordance with guidelines set by the state.

The council previously met on Saturday, April 11 at 9 a.m., and Monday’s meeting was a continuation from that discussion on how to expand its list of essential work activities and allow crews of one or two to work safely in isolation. The council, with guidance from Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla, added various categories of workers to its “essential” list, but put off any final vote to Wednesday, April 15.

The council’s goal is to monitor compliance — workers must adhere to strict social distancing regulations and not share tools or rides, for instance — and have warned if there is general non-compliance the new loosening of the rules will be “shut down,” in the words of Second Warden André Boudreau. While construction has been deemed essential on the mainland, the Council has not made it so on Block Island.

The amended emergency ordinance includes activities relating to the following: public safety; public works; medical care; emergency and/or scheduled veterinary care; public utilities such as water, sewer and electric; sale and purchase of gasoline, sale and purchase of propane and heating oil; delivery of medicines; transfer station; sale and purchase of liquor as provided in this emergency ordinance; sale and purchase of hardware and lumber; post office; package delivery; sale and purchase of groceries; sale and purchase of take-out food from establishments that were open at any time during the period January 2, 2020 through April 11, 2020; banking; education as it directly relates to development of curriculum and its distribution; farming and agriculture; commercial fishing, lobstering and shellfishing; emergency appliance repair, emergency telecommunications network repair; emergency exterminator services; emergency heating repair; emergency heating installation; and emergency vehicle repairs. (See amendments to the emergency ordinance below)

Ball has repeatedly stated that these new guidelines should not be interpreted as an opening up the island. Sheltering-in-place is in effect until May 8. With that in mind, the councilors towed a fine line between opening up the island in a general sense and loosening the guidelines in a controlled manner.

At the meeting on Monday, there was an extensive discussion that led up to Wednesday’s vote.

“I think it is a slow and steady opening… we do need to begin to, in a controlled way, get people back to work. The point of this list was trying to identify those activities where there is very little action, social isolation … the idea was, small phases of minimal increase of risk,” said Risom at the Monday meeting.

“We need to phase this in a safe and smart approach…state borders don’t decide where the virus comes,” said Boudreau. “The island workforce has been under a quarantine for three weeks now. Basically, this is calling people back to work on a date. If we want to amend that, to say safe, smart and targeted.”

Lacoste noted he had been receiving comments and feedback from workers in the island community in returning to work.

“I’ve been receiving [input from] first trades that were chiming in. It was the trades doing small scale construction work and site preparation. Mowing doesn’t have to get started for a couple of weeks,” said Lacoste.

“I think we can make this list smaller or larger, this was about isolated working…but these are folks who are in isolated one to two person work environments that wouldn’t increase the spread of COVID-19,” said Risom.

Willi asked Merrolla if any of the activities on “the list contradicts the state?

“No,” answered Merrola.

“I see it as throwing people into isolated sites, in a controlled manner of practicing CDC and social distancing... a small population of the island back to work. Not everyone is comfortable with going on unemployment; it allows them to get back to work,” added Lacoste.

“I think that’s what we need to stick to — how to get the local population back to work. But, a safe and smart and targeted way of doing this is what we should be doing,” said Boudreau.

“How many people are we talking about? Is it a dozen mowers? Lets start the enrollment period, and make a decision on the rollout…that can start next week, but I want to know what we are talking about, and the impact it may or may not have,” added Willi.

Willi and Boudreau both thought the work activities be started later in the month of April, which led to their dissent on Wednesday.

“From what the doctor has said, and what we have been hearing, [the virus] is supposed to peak about April 20,” said Boudreau. Gov. Raimondo has said the state may peak in early May.

Ball, however, favored April 20 as the start date if only to have a full week to monitor activity to see if the ordinance would have to be revised in any way. “I would rather start at the beginning of the week,” said Ball.

Risom made the motion to amend the section on work activities, to be effective starting Monday, April 20. Lacoste seconded the amendment and Willi and Boudreau voted no on this motion, with the other three assenting.

Workers cannot just simply show up at a work site. The council, in its amendments, have set up registration protocols.

Workers choosing to go to work will have to inform a “Town Manager’s designee” prior to working at a job site, with “no more than two people, regardless of what job is being performed,” said Merrolla.

“It should be clear … if things start to go sideways, we will meet right away and lockdown again, because we will have to,” said Boudreau.

Lacoste, as has been the case recently, was the only Town Council member present at Town Hall, with Interim Town Manager Jim Kern, Second Warden Andre Boudreau, Councilors Chris Willi, Martha Ball, and Sven Risom, Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, Town Solicitor Kathy Merrolla, Building Official Marc Tillson, Emergency Management co-director Bill McCombe and Dr. Mark Clark

Amendments to the emergency ordinance

The most important changes to the town’s emergency ordinance passed by the Town Council concern which activities are now declared essential, and how workers should adhere to the guidelines of social distancing.

Here is the text of section 9 of the town’s ordinance, which originally went into effect on March 23:

Anyone arriving on Block Island must immediately Self-Quarantine (as that term is hereinafter defined) for two weeks, and thereafter must Shelter-in-Place (as that term is hereinafter defined) and follow CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall be construed so as to prevent a person who is under the Self-Quarantine or Shelter-in-Place requirements of this paragraph from leaving the island; provided, however, that a person under the SelfQuarantine requirements must proceed directly to the ferry or airport without making any stops.

All residents, full-time or seasonal, must Shelter-in-Place and follow CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines.

Only transient workers may commute to Block Island who are engaged in Essential Activities; provided, however, that all such transient workers are restricted as follows:

• workers must inform the Town Manager’s designee as posted on the Town’s website (in addition to such other posting places as the Town Manager may determine appropriate) prior to coming to the island;

• workers may not go to any location on the island other than to the job site where they will engage in an Essential Activity and back to the ferry and/or airport to leave the island;

• workers must wear face masks and have hand washing and/or hand sanitizer readily available to them;

• workers must maintain a daily log of personal contacts; and

• workers must maintain social distancing and the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health Guidelines must be followed.

All persons on Block Island are encouraged to conduct Essential Activities by themselves, in order that minimal contact/exposure may be achieved.

The term “Essential Activities” includes activities relating to the following: public safety; public works; medical care; emergency and/or scheduled veterinary care; public utilities such as water, sewer and electric; sale and purchase of gasoline, sale and purchase of propane and heating oil; delivery of medicines; transfer station; sale and purchase of liquor as provided in this emergency ordinance; sale and purchase of hardware and lumber; post office; package delivery; sale and purchase of groceries; sale and purchase of take-out food from establishments that were open at any time during the period January 2, 2020 through April 11, 2020; banking; education as it directly relates to development of curriculum and its distribution; farming and agriculture; commercial fishing, lobstering and shellfishing; emergency appliance repair, emergency telecommunications network repair; emergency exterminator services; emergency heating repair; emergency heating installation; and emergency vehicle repairs.

The term “Self-Quarantine” means that you must proceed from the ferry or airport directly to your residence without making any stops, remain at your residence except for medical care or emergencies, have food and other necessities delivered, and monitor yourself for symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The term “Shelter-in-Place” means remaining at your residence except for activities relating to Essential Activities; however, people may leave their residences to conduct the following activities regardless of whether they are Essential Activities:

a. Outside Activities: People may engage in outside activities such as walks and exercise, but social distancing must be maintained and the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health guidelines must be followed.

b. Work Activities: This subparagraph b shall not go into effect until Monday April 20, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. People may engage in the following work activities: construction; plumbing; electrical work; site development; landscaping; mowing; painting; foundation installation, septic removal or installation, building repair; veterinary services, appliance repair; vehicle repair; telecommunications network repair; house watching; exterminator services; remodeling; and heating and cooling repair and installation; provided, however, that these work activities may only be conducted under the following conditions:

• prior to working on a job site, a worker must inform the Town Manager’s designee as posted on the Town’s website (in addition to such other posting places as the Town Manager may determine appropriate);

• no more than two (2) people may be present at any job site regardless of the type of work being performed;

• workers must wear face masks and have hand washing and/or hand sanitizer readily available on site;

• workers may not travel to and from the job site together;

• workers may not share hand tools;

• workers must maintain a daily log of personal contacts; and

• workers must maintain social distancing and the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health Guidelines must be followed.

Nothing contained in this subparagraph b shall be construed to override the Self-Quarantine requirements of this Paragraph 9.