NORTH KINGSTOWN – On Monday, the Town of North Kingstown declared a state of emergency over the outbreak of COVID-19, or coronavirus. The town council voted unanimously to direct town manager Ralph Mollis to declare the state of emergency, which will remain in effect until April 8.
During Monday’s council meeting, superintendent Philip Auger also gave updates on the status of the school department, going over the efforts being made since schools closed this week because of the coronavirus, as well as detailing plans for “distance learning,” while students are home from school in the coming weeks.
The coronavirus is a respiratory disease that was first detected in China and which has now been detected in more than 100 locations internationally, including in the United States. In January, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”
And earlier this month, Gov. Gina Raimondo declared a state of emergency for Rhode Island. As of March 18, the state has 33 confirmed or presumptive positive cases for the coronavirus, with ten new cases on Wednesday alone. Furthermore, over 300 people are currently awaiting tests, while 2,500 people have been instructed to self-quarantine.
On Wednesday, Raimondo also announced that schools would be closed for an additional two weeks because of the increase in positive cases. During this time, schools will transition to distance learning, or remote learning, from home.
Since Raimondo declared a state of emergency, towns throughout Rhode Island have followed suit, including North Kingstown, whose declaration mirrors Raimondo’s in many respects.
Under North Kingstown’s state of emergency, the town library and senior center will be closed and all non-essential public meetings will be canceled. Mollis said that a hotline had been established for individuals to volunteer to help seniors, and for seniors to call to let the town know what services they’re in need of, such as food, pharmacy, or other items.
All town recreational programs, activities, and events have also been canceled,
The declaration also states that all entertainment licenses, special event permits and permitted mass gatherings will be revoked during the state of emergency. It also mandates that all restaurants, bars or establishments within North Kingstown that offer food or drink will not be permitted on-premises consumption until March 30. All mass gatherings were also limited to 25 people or less.
Furthermore, the state of emergency also means that all town offices and departments will operate on a schedule as determined by the town manager from time to time, and may restrict in-person activity for the health and safety of the members of the public and municipal employees.
Mollis also issued a separate administrative order requesting that residents utilize online services, opposed to visiting the municipal offices personally.
The state of emergency also allows Mollis to "enforce all laws, rules and regulations relating to defense/civil preparedness."
He went on to say that the town was keeping tabs on coronavirus-related expenses, in case federal disaster emergency funds become available.
“Finance is working on many behind the scene issues that we wouldn’t normally think of, such as late payment penalties, online processing fees, bonding, banking, cash flow, etcetera,” he added. “There will be some items that we’ll turn to the council to get your approval before we do anything.”
He also said that all town buildings are being “thoroughly cleaned.”
While all non-essential meetings have been canceled until April 8, Mollis said that didn’t necessarily apply to all meetings. For instance, meetings to discuss the preliminary budget for FY2021 are tentatively scheduled for March 27 and March 30, though those dates are subject to change.
“The council may determine that a certain meeting is essential,” Mollis said. “That doesn’t mean all meetings are canceled.”
The town also made a page on its website dedicated to COVID-19 information, providing regular updates.
“It will have a timeline of all of the updates that we’ve posted already and all new updates effective [Monday],” Mollis said.
For more information, visit www.northkingstown.org and click on the COVID-19 Information and Resources tab at the top of the homepage.
Because the state of emergency gives the town manager the ability to enforce laws relating to defense or civil preparedness, town council president Greg Mancini requested that any changes to the administrative order reflect what Raimondo is doing on the state-level.
“I think the governor has been doing an unbelievable job,” Mancini said. “I would encourage you to make any changes to this administrative order to be consistent with what the governor is doing on a statewide basis.”
“In some cases, obviously, you have to, but in some cases you have discretion,” he added. “I would highly encourage you to follow the governor because I think she’s demonstrated true leadership.”
In a separate discussion, Auger said that, at Raimondo’s direction, the school department was currently preparing “distance learning” plans for students, who will remain out of school for the next two weeks at least.
Last week, Raimondo ordered that all Rhode Island schools close, and that the week of spring vacation be moved up to this week, so students wouldn’t miss any learning days. However, the governor also tasked school departments with creating distance learning plans, in the event that school closures would be extended beyond the week, which she announced on Wednesday would be happening.
“We have been charged by the governor to create distance learning protocols for our students,” Auger said. “We’re hoping to put together a lot of infrastructure really fast.”
While Auger said that he expected distance learning days to make up for missed school days, he added that nobody was “pretending that a day of distance learning or virtual learning is going to be equal to a day in-school, with the normal experience.”
“We have a lot of challenges around a lot of the special services that kids receive, special education and so on,” he said.
Auger also said that putting together a distance learning plan would require “all hands on deck.”
“Not only with students and teachers,” he said, “but other staff, such as teacher-assistants, in terms of calling home and making sure parents are comfortable with this.”
Regardless, Auger said that the department already had a lot of the materials and tools in place to go forward with distance or online learning.
“Most of our students have chromebooks, we’re going to be putting together more options for them to obtain a school department chromebook later in the week, and even options to find or obtain wifi for free through different service providers,” Auger said.
Regarding internet service, the school department recently announced that, if a family receives free or reduced lunch from the district, Cox Communications was offering free internet service with remote support for 30 days to families who qualify and sign up.
The district has worked with Cox Communications to expedite North Kingstown families who qualify for these services. For anyone interested in this offer, visit www.cox.com/c2c to sign up.
The deadline to submit the distance learning plan to the department of education is Thursday, March 19.
Because of the school closures, the school department offered free lunch to anyone ages one to 18-years-old, and will continue to do so for the rest of the week.
Lunch will be served today and Friday at the North Kingstown High School and Davisville Middle School. The NKHS location will be offering free lunch from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., and the DMS location will be offering from 12 to 1 p.m.
The school department said that there would be no need for parents or children to exit their vehicles. Rather, the meals will be brought to each car.
For more information, visit https://www.nksd.net to find regularly updated information.