Town Council enacts emergency ordinance

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 6:30pm

On Tuesday, March 17, the Block Island Town Council unanimously passed an Emergency Ordinance that has set guidelines for travelers coming to the island from the mainland, discourages non-residents from coming to Block island, limits the number of people that can gather together, essentially shuts down Town Hall except for a minimal amount of personnel, and cancels all but the most essential town meetings.

The ordinance will be in full force until April 15, 2020.

The meeting on Tuesday was sometimes tense.

Perhaps the primary point of contention was who should be required to self-quarantine if they have traveled from the mainland to Block island. The council at first discussed instituting a radius on the mainland. If travelers arrived from within that area they would need to self-quarantine. 

In order to get some guidance on the matter, Councilor Martha Ball made a call to Dr. Mark Clark who said that idea of implementing a radius “does not solve your problem. If someone is on the island [with the virus], you’ve broken the seal.” Dr. Clark has strongly recommended that everyone on Block Island practice social distancing.

Concerned that the town could not yet prohibit travel to the island, the council eventually decided on language that states “Any person coming to Block Island who has traveled outside of the continental United States within the last fourteen days must immediately self-quarantine for fourteen days upon arrival on Block Island. Any person traveling to Block Island must practice heightened awareness and social distancing.”

There are already repercussions: A scheduled Special Financial Town Meeting for March 23 concerning the water main project on High Street and Payne Road has been postponed. School Supt. Mike Convery also stated that the Block Island School, closed for one week beginning March 16, will likely be closed for longer than one week. Online classes are scheduled to begin Monday, March 23. The Island Free Library, Town Hall and other municipal departments, have also been closed.

The town’s Emergency Management Co-director, Bill McCombe, announced to The Block Island Times that he has secured a small amount of respiratory masks for first responders from the state Department of Health. Those masks arrived Tuesday, he said. “Each town received a limited supply,” said McCombe. As for ferry travel, McCombe, who is also head of security for Interstate Navigation, said they are encouraging people who have a car on the ferry to stay in their car during the hour-long trip, a practice he said would be in place for the foreseeable future.

The ordinance the council approved Tuesday night opens with a lengthy list of why the emergency declaration is needed, going back to Jan. 30, 2020 when the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a “public emergency of international concern,” through the recent steps taken by the state of Rhode Island in its attempts to limit the spread of the virus.

Sewer Supt. Dylan Chase, per an advisory from the state Department of Environmental Management, asked residents to dispose their wetwipes in the trash and not flush them away.

Here are the provisions of the ordinance:

NOW, THEREFORE, the Town Council of the Town of New Shoreham does hereby adopt the following emergency ordinance for purposes of protecting the public health, safety and/or general welfare of the Town which are imminently imperiled by COVID-19:

1. A state of emergency is hereby immediately declared in the Town of New Shoreham due to the risks to the public health and safety posed by COVID-19. The remainder of this ordinance is effective as of 12:01 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 and shall continue in full force and effect until midnight on April 15, 2020. The effective period may be amended as circumstances warrant.

2. All Town offices and facilities except for public safety offices shall close and all non- essential Town employees shall be put on paid administrative leave until further notice. The determination as to which employees are essential shall be at the discretion of the Town Manager and the Town Manager may call back any employee in the event of an urgent matter requiring immediate attention.

3. All restaurants, bars and other establishments that offer food and/or beverages to the public shall not permit on-premises consumption of food or beverages, and may offer only take-out or delivery service as to food and non-alcoholic beverages in accordance with the social distancing protocols of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

4. All gatherings of people (other than family members) in excess of ten (10) or more on Block Island are prohibited. Gatherings shall include, without limitation, community, civic, public, leisure or faith-based events, sporting events, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals and any other similar activity on the island which brings together more than ten (10) people.

5. All non-essential Town meetings are cancelled including, without limitation, Town Council meetings, Town financial meetings and all meetings of any Town department, agency, quasi-municipal agency, board and commission.

6. All Town departments, agencies, quasi-municipal agencies, boards and commissions are instructed to fully cooperate with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and with the New Shoreham Emergency Management Agency in all matters regarding this ordinance.

7. All of the following licenses and permits are suspended during the effective period of this emergency ordinance: entertainment licenses; liquor licenses except for Class A; special event permits; and outdoor entertainment licenses.

8. Travel to Block Island is discouraged for any non-resident. Full-time residents are encouraged to restrict travel off island for essential purposes only such as medical care, care of a family member, and obtaining food and other provisions.

9. Any person coming to Block Island who has traveled outside of the continental United States within the last fourteen days must immediately self-quarantine for fourteen days upon arrival on Block Island. Any person traveling to Block Island must practice heightened awareness and social distancing.

10. Any person who may have come in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 must immediately self-quarantine for fourteen days before coming to Block Island.

11. Any person who is under self-quarantine direction who wants to go to the Block Island Medical Center must first contact the medical center for instructions as to how to proceed. This directive does not apply to persons requiring emergency medical care or assistance.

12. All persons on Block Island shall fully comply with all federal, state and local emergency directives and orders as shall be from time to time amended.

13. The New Shoreham Police Department is instructed to enforce the provisions of this emergency ordinance.