WESTERLY — The smell of cleaning products was unmistakable in Town Hall Monday as officials tried to carry out their routine duties while also planning for the next few days as the COVID-19 threat worsens.
Shortly before noon, Town Manager J. Mark Rooney met with Chief of Police Shawn Lacey, Emergency Management Director Amy Grzybowski and Town Clerk Donna Giordano to review local and statewide restrictions aimed at slowing spread of the virus. While stopping short of declaring a local emergency, Rooney said the town and police department will follow orders announced Monday morning by Gov. Gina Raimondo.
The governor, on Monday, announced that effective today, on-premise food consumption at restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and other eateries is banned at least through March 30. Pick-up, drive through and delivery is allowed to continue uninterrupted. Raimondo also banned gatherings of more than 25.
For the time being, Town Hall will remain open.
"All town government is still open for business as usual, but we're encouraging the use of online services and mail services," Rooney said.
A local emergency declaration gives local officials special powers, including the ability to revoke entertainment licenses, but Rooney said there was currently no need to declare a local emergency given the governor's orders.
"The community doesn't have a need for me to declare a local emergency. Amy and me and the chief can handle it at this point," Rooney said.
All town board, commission and committee meetings, with the exception of Town Council meetings, have been canceled through the end of the month. The cancellations also include the municipal and probate courts. A Town Council meeting that had been scheduled for Monday was canceled last week but the one scheduled for March 23 was still being planned for, Rooney said.
The Westerly Senior Citizens Center remains open but many regular events for large groups, such as bingo, have been canceled. Seniors can pick up lunches at the center, but the meal will not be served. The center's social worker will be available at the center. Lacey said he would explore whether 12-step meetings that occur at the center and elsewhere throughout the town can continue.
"The governor has mentioned through all of this that it's essential to keep mental health services available," Lacey said.
Similarly, Lacey and Rooney said they planned to speak with officials at the WARM Center to change their approach for the daily dinner the center offers for people in need. The center typically serves more than 25 people at a time.
"We'll ask them to stagger it," Rooney said.
The police department, Lacey said, will monitor local bars, restaurants and other establishments with the hope of ensuring compliance with the governor's orders.
Rooney made a request to all residents.
"If you don't feel good, please show some social consideration and stay home," he said.
Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau has been in frequent talks with state education and health officials as well as with members of Raimondo's administration. Public schools in the state are closed this week per an order by Raimondo, who moved students' April vacation up to this week.
While local public schools are closed, children accompanied by an adult can pick up free breakfast and lunch at either Springbrook School or Tower Street School Community Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting today. Children must be present in order for families to receive the meals.
No identification is required. Families should drive up to the main entrance and food service personnel will hand out meals.
Anticipating a potential shutdown, school officials last week started discussing ways for students to continue learning. Garceau said those discussions are ongoing. While remote and distance learning is a possibility for high school and middle school students, Garceau said the situation is complicated by the fact that not all families in the town have internet access.
Garceau said he anticipated local and state officials adjusting timelines for approval of annual budgets and work on a local school building project, which is subject to state regulations and deadlines.
"This is unchartered territory. We'll figure all of it out as we go," he said.