In an effort to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in the region, officials have decided to keep both Stonington Town Hall and North Stonington Town Hall open by appointment only through at least the first week of 2021.

First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said Friday that the decision was made out of caution as confirmed cases remain at a high level in Stonington. She said the goal of the extension is to continue to provide services while minimizing the impact to staff, and to encourage those who traveled for the Christmas or New Year holidays to quarantine. North Stonington First Selectman Michael Urgo said that out of an abundance of caution, North Stonington will take the same approach, remaining open by appointment only.

“With COVID cases remaining high in our community, and an increase in cases among staff, we have decided to extend this process throughout the first week of January,” Chesebrough said in a message shared to the town’s website and on Facebook. “ We want to ensure the safety of staff and our ability to serve residents.”

According to data from the Ledge Light Health District, Stonington has seen a total of 79 cases over a two-week period ending Dec. 19. Since testing for the virus first began in March, the town has had 406 total cases and eight COVID-19 related deaths.

During that same time period, North Stonington saw the number of local cases spike to 37 cases. The increase represented more than 8 percent of those who were tested, the highest rate of any of Ledge Light Health District’s nine municipal partners.

Data for Christmas week was not available on Thursday afternoon. Data is usually updated weekly on Fridays, but a delay is expected this week as a result of the New Year’s Day holiday.

As a result of the recent spike in cases locally paired with a successful return to a hybrid model by starting first with distance learning only in the week following Thanksgiving, Stonington Public Schools transitioned to a distance learning model on Dec. 21 and will students remain in remote learning upon returning to school on Monday.

Both Stonington Town Hall and Stonington Public Schools hope to reopen on Jan. 11, with students once again returning to a hybrid model. Safety protocols including mask requirements and social distancing will remain in place.

Urgo said officials will reevaluate in January whether further restrictions will be needed. North Stonington students are currently scheduled to return to class under a hybrid model beginning on Monday.

Chesebrough praised efforts by officials during the recent spike in cases, saying that from the Department of Public Works to Town Hall and Stonington Human Services, employees have worked hard to provide the same quality of services, or in some cases more, than were available prior to the pandemic.

“Their dedication to serving the residents of this Town, throughout the challenges presented by the pandemic, are commendable,” Chesebrough said. “We also thank our residents for the support we have seen throughout our community for those in need during this time and ask we continue in this spirit of consideration for each other and giving back whenever possible.”

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