NARRAGANSETT – In response to and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the town declared a state of emergency yesterday, canceled all public meetings this week, including Monday’s town council meeting, and strongly encouraged residents to complete transactions and inquire about town business via email or telephone rather than in-person at town hall. While town offices and operations will remain open, appointments will now be required for members of the public seeking essential face-to-face interactions with town staff.
“If there is a need to meet face to face, please call the department that you need to talk to and make an appointment,” said Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney after strongly encouraging residents and citizens to utilize the town’s online services and make phone calls to town hall. “Please do not just walk in the office without an appointment.”
Tierney said there would be no ‘in-person’ services without an appointment.
“Ask yourself: ‘can I do this online, on the phone, through utilizing a drop box?’” he continued. “If the answer is yes, please conduct your transaction that way. Thank you for your consideration during this difficult time.”
Tierney’s memo came attached to a declaration of a state of emergency in the Town of Narragansett that was approved by the town council Monday. Governor Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency in Rhode Island on March 9. Many municipalities have since followed suit.
Per the state of emergency declaration, which mentions the dangers of COVID-19, the town has enacted its disaster emergency plan, activating its emergency operations center via the Narragansett Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Additionally, the town is activating all necessary emergency response plans, policies, compacts and agreements. All town departments, agencies and quasi-municipal agencies will cooperate fully with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) and NEMA.
All entertainment licenses and special events permits, including night clubs, concerts, live music, or other events, are revoked during the state of emergency. The town said it would not be issuing any entertainment licenses or special event permits at this time. In coordination with mandates from the state, bars and restaurants in town will offer only carry-out, as dining services are restricted as of Tuesday.
The document also notes gatherings of 25 people or more are prohibited in Rhode Island via a March 16 executive order, though guidance from the White House has stated gatherings of 10 people or more should not take place. This includes, but is not limited to, community, civic, leisure or faith-based events, concerts, conventions, fundraisers, parades, fairs, festivals and any other activity that brings together 25 people or more at the same time, according to the document.
The Narragansett Community Center is closed for the next two weeks and Maury Loontjens Memorial Library is closed this week, with both facility’s closures expected to extend.
Residents can conduct town transactions online at narragansettri.gov.
Narragansett town officials are reacting to the news, encouraging residents to come together and showing concerns for local small business.
“I want to emphasize that this declaration is a precautionary measure to limit the spread of the virus,” said Narragansett Town Council President Matthew Mannix. “We are in unchartered territory and understand that the unknown can cause more anxiety than a more tangible threat, like a hurricane.”
According to Mannix, the town council, along with the town’s boards and commissions, will only meet to address matters that are time-sensitive or essential to town operations.
“Townspeople who wish to weigh in on such matters should call or email council or board members rather than attend such meetings due to current restrictions on large gatherings,” he said.
“We need to come together to address this threat,” Mannix continued. “Yet, ironically, we are discouraged from physical interactions because of their potential to spread the virus. Please do not let this threat weaken the strength of the ties that bind our community. Our families, churches, schools and voluntary associations are what make our town a unique and thriving community. While we may not meet face-to-face, we can call one another, check to see if an elderly neighbor needs us to run an errand for him, keep children safe and pray for a solution. “To that end, faith and common sense are our guideposts here,” Mannix concluded. “If you are elderly or have an underlying health condition, please curtail your activities. If an errand does not need to be done, stay at home. We do not want this virus to change our way of life, so let us try to prevent its spread now.”
Councilor Jesse Pugh said it was reassuring to see the community step up during this uncertain time.
“It is great seeing the community come together at a time like this,” he said. “I have witnessed countless residents ask how they can volunteer to help others who don't have enough or are unable to get what they need. Many of our local restaurants made the tough decision to shut down their dining rooms even before the state mandated it, because it was the right thing to do to keep our community safe.”
“With this said, I am extremely worried about the ability of our local small businesses to weather this storm,” Pugh continued. “Many restaurants survive here week to week due to the seasonal nature or our town. They have payrolls that need to be paid now and there is no revenue coming in. Gyms, salons, and other businesses are in similar situations and employ many Narragansett residents. Most of these businesses will be shut down for a few weeks at a minimum and this could extend into months.”
Pugh called for a financial relief package from the federal government specifically targeting small business to address the crisis.
“If the federal government delivers on a financial aid package that helps our small independent businesses that would be fantastic, however, as a town, we should be prepared and willing to do our part,” he said. “That requires working together and building a plan today. COVID-19 and the measures needed to slow it down are having an immediate and real financial impact on Narragansett residents and businesses. The town needs to deliver an immediate and equally strong response.”
The state of emergency is in effect through March 30, at which time the town will address an extension if need be. Updates on town business, including the state of emergency, can be accessed at narragansettri.gov. The phone number to town hall is (401) 789-1044.