By Ellen Zoppo-Sassu
It’s not what you say in a crisis. It’s what you do.
In the last two weeks we have seen the world turned upside down in reaction to COVID-19. This column will give Bristol residents a behind the scenes look at their city’s response:
- Keeping our workforce healthy is a priority - fire, police, public works, water & sewer have all implemented plans to ensure Bristol is covered in case any of the above-referenced groups have an outbreak. City Hall staff is also staggering schedules and is available by phone and email and via the website. Our IT staff has been working double time to ensure city employees are accessible and have the proper tools to do so including rolling over of phone lines and access back to city databases.
- The Bristol-Burlington Health District has deployed its nurses, health aides and dental hygienists to work at the hospital, at the testing site and checking on staff and residents of Shelter among many other tasks.
- The Board of Education administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, maintenance and cafeteria staff have worked long hours to create a whole new structure to comply with distance learning requirements. Last week more than 1,000 Chrome Books were loaned out to students who did not have devices at home. And how cool is this - a group of high school students worked with the superintendent to create a set of directions for kids to utilize their Xbox and Playstations to connect to distance learning.
- The Bristol Housing Authority, Coppermine Estates (Shawn Drive), Huntington Woods and the Park Department at Rockwell Park have partnered with the BOE to be food distribution sites. On Monday, parks staff moved refrigerated coolers from Muzzy to Mrs. Rockwell’s Pavilion to help store food in between cleaning and sanitizing the playground equipment.
- Our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), under the direction of Emergency Management Director Harley Graime, was activated to assist at the food distribution sites, aided by dozens of volunteers who offered to help via the city’s All-Heart Hotline (860) 584-6253. These volunteers also delivered food to families without transportation and have run errands for seniors and those with medical issues.
- Thanks to the All-Heart Hotline volunteers, the city was also able to keep Foodshare on schedule for its weekly grocery drop off at Cambridge Park and Gaylord Towers, which they were going to discontinue due to the pandemic and lack of Foodshare volunteers.
- City staff, along with the chamber of commerce, are working to evaluate all economic development assistance packages and to get that information out to the local businesses as they are finalized.
- The Mayor’s Office is working with St. Vincent DePaul to coordinate donated meals on various nights through the end of April due to them being down a cook. More than a dozen individuals and groups have stepped up to sponsor, and are using local restaurants to purchase those dinners.
- Planning is also underway to prepare for overflow and isolation areas, if needed. Special thanks to Little League International for allowing the city to use the Mix St. Little League dormitories and Dining Hall for this purpose.
- Our parks and library staffs have put fun and interactive activities online and on social media to enhance students’ distance learning, as well as other free fitness and other activities for all ages. And stay tuned for the fire department’s activities as well!
- Our finance staff is documenting expenses that may be reimbursed by FEMA while also working to compile the City’s budget for July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021.
- The senior center staff has been calling through their membership list to check in on senior citizens and ask if they need anything.
- And there are other random acts that are supporting the larger community efforts - calling Congressman Larson’s staff to help someone arrange to get out Peru where they were stranded; the assistance of our bilingual staff, Manny Lorenzo and Patricia Ochoa-Roche, to help translate and respond to community needs; fielding calls from daycares, hair salons and other small businesses about business impact and closures; calling the grocery stores to encourage them to impose limits on items like toilet paper to stop hoarding; and fielding suggestions and ideas from citizens, like closing the lower half of Memorial Boulevard to traffic to create another spot for outside recreation while social distancing.
We are presented with new challenges every day. The role of local government is to prepare, to provide relief or to support. No two days are alike. While it is inevitable that the number of positive coronavirus test results will increase, it is our hope that the entire community stays positive, checks on their neighbors, remember that mental health and anxiety are real and to have patience and kindness for those who are having a difficult time.
If we all “stay home and stay safe” so we can hasten the process for flattening this curve and go back to normal day-to-day activities. I know the city council and I are all looking forward to Bristol Blues games, summer concerts at Rockwell Park and the many festivals - and we hope to see all of you there as well.
Ellen Zappo-Sassu is the mayor of Bristol