EAST GREENWICH—The town received Governor Raimondo’s guidelines for reopening businesses and government facilities last week and presented the information to the public as part of a digital packet during a remote town council meeting on Monday. The plan will see local government and business reopen gradually through three phases, and resident are being urged to practice common sense precautions as they attempt to venture into the light of day once again.
Town manager Andrew Nota and drug program director Bob Houghtaling took to the streets, literally, to create an informative video for the public regarding what they should and should not expect as the town crawls back towards normalcy. The video, which can be found on the town’s official Facebook page, features a mask-clad Nota and Houghtaling laying out the realities of reopening in the COVID-19 era.
“We’re here today to provide the community with an update on three topics. The first is about park use and recreational programming, the second is the re-access and opening of facilities like the town hall to the general public, and the third is local business,” Nota said. “[The plan] has gathering size limits that are spaced out over the phases based on the number of positive cases that we might continue to see in Rhode Island. But it’s going to be slow-going.”
Business, government and social activity will resume on a limited basis this week according to the plan, albeit with significant restrictions remaining in place with regard to public health and safety. Organizations and individuals are asked to enact strict social distancing guidelines, and employers are being ordered to implement employee and visitor screening and cleaning regimens.
Governor Raimondo also issued an order for all governmental organizations to prepare a plan for reopening and resuming full services in a phased approach and outlined guidelines for doing such. The first phase, beginning this week, is to be characterized by strict limits on physical occupancy, distribution of materials to inform staff of new procedures for maintaining safe operations and a plan for sourcing and maintaining necessary supplies throughout the pandemic.
Accordingly, town hall will be opening on an appointment-only basis, as will the myriad other town departments. Similarly, registration for the Parks and Recreation department’s summer program has been postponed to May 26, with the uncertainties of the reopening being cited as the cause for the delay. Nota described the precautions being taken at town hall, and the tenuous hope for a more widespread opening later in the summer.
“A lot of our counter spaces now have plexiglass shields to separate employees from patrons. Any individual desks have addition protections to make employees feel comfortable. Masks will still be strongly recommended in any of our facilities,” Nota said. “We’re beginning to move in the right direction to a full reopening in the coming months, although the challenge lies in maintaining an adequate balance in public safety with getting back to an acceptable level of local activity.”
“We’re still holding hope that later in the summer,” Nota continued, “based on the government’s executive orders, we’ll be able to hold some semblance of middle to large scale programming.”
Until that time comes, however, government departments will only accept appointments and swaths of public space will be off limits. Playground areas will remain closed for the time being. Basketball and tennis courts will open, tentatively, but continued access will be dependent on public compliance with established rules and norms regarding social distancing and the wearing of masks. Further, though restaurants and bars will not yet be allowed to admit patrons, they will be able to offer limited outdoor seating, perhaps thereby offering the faintest spark of life to be breathed back into a desolate Main Street.
“It’s a cause for optimism,” Houghtaling said of the reopening. “But that optimism has to be tempered with some common sense and some good citizenry.”
For the time being, the town leadership is urging local residents to practice sound judgement regarding their health, and to prepare to give all the support they can to those businesses that are now re-opening, many of which are hanging on by a thread.