Over the past eight weeks, we have been inundated with data and numbers and graphs. The information can be overwhelming. This column will focus on some of the numbers that we have been dealing with in various scenarios.
The number 20-33 is the new COVID-19 radio code the dispatchers use. “20-33 positive, 20-33 unknown or 20-33 negative” are phrases we hear all day long as police, fire and EMS respond to calls. It is just one more layer in place to protect first responders. Of the 600 city employees, we have had two city employees test positive, as well as a handful of employees with secondary contacts - such as their spouses in healthcare testing positive, which had us sending those employees home to quarantine out of an abundance of caution. All tested negative and are currently doing well.
To date, more than 380 people in Bristol have tested positive and 16 residents have died. This virus is dramatically affecting our senior citizens, especially those at convalescent homes. The city and the Bristol-Burlington Health District are currently working with the hospital on a plan to help change these statistics.
Dozens of businesses are also being disrupted. Our Economic & Community Development team, which is working closely with the chamber, has been working to pair businesses with the right match in terms of small business support, loans, federal programs and more. Lists of available programs are on the city and chamber websites. Another sobering number - more than 7,500 Bristol residents have filed for unemployment benefits through last week.
The city departments meet every Tuesday morning to go over issues and coordinate responses. All departments are coding expenses associated with COVID-19 in the hope that there will be reimbursement from FEMA or through the CARES Act. To date, we have tracked $1.3 million for supplies, personnel costs and other items.
While spring sports, theater productions and school events have been disrupted for our 8,000 students, the Board of Education has entered Phase 3 of distance learning and distributed 2,000 Chromebooks to kids who needed them, as well as deployed 64 hotspots to provide internet access. One point that this crisis has brought to light is the digital inequity in certain economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. It is not just the digital divide issues with students - we have seen more challenges in terms of more people working from home and the medical appointments that are being done by video. Access to broadband is needed, especially since cell phone coverage is spotty and not a long-term solution. The city has been advocating for these types of open access networks to create competition, which will improve access and make it more affordable.
Bristol is comprised of many compassionate people, groups and businesses. Dinners are being donated four nights a week to the residents of the St. Vincent DePaul Shelter. We are currently scheduled out through the beginning of June due to the generosity of many. Dozens of businesses have also donated meals that have been dropped off to the hospital health care workers and our first responders as a show of appreciation. Immanuel Lutheran Church & School has also offered the use of some of their facilities for the approximate 30 or so homeless who are living outside; or in case there is an outbreak and the shelter needs to isolate or quarantine residents. The Little League complex on Mix St. is also “at the ready” in case we need to mobilize for a surge.
People, meanwhile, are sewing masks for healthcare workers and other volunteers continue to work the Lunch Distribution sites which went the 100,000 meal mark recently. The John E. Tavera (JET) Foundation donated $1,500 to the city and United Way so we could shop for seniors and others who could not and should not leave their homes. Residents are sending donations to the city, United Way, Main St. Community Foundation and the Hospital Foundation in order to help with COVID-19 impact. UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program also delivered 17 cases of milk to the United Way, which has coordinated this donation to go to our local food pantries.
And yet, amidst the chaos and uncertainty, the Water Department continues to do its mandatory weekly water sampling at 20 locations to ensure our drinking water is safe. The Public Works Department is handling increased traffic at the Transfer Station while picking up trash, recycling and yardwaste, doing road work and fixing catch basins. The police and fire departments are responding to calls for service and the Parks Department has our fields and playgrounds ready for the day that we re-open them.
We will be missing the 25 home games the Bristol Blues would have had at Muzzy, the thrill of the regional Little League tournaments when the 10 Softball and 12 Little League teams and 20,000 fans from the East and Mid-Atlantic states descend on Mix St. The Parks Department, however, will be offering a Summer Camp program for 300-plus kids per week, in accordance with state guidelines. This year, we are also offering before and after care to help working families. There will also be 20 Saturdays worth of farmers markets downtown, also with modifications to protect those in attendance.
We have learned many lessons about our resiliency and ability to adapt while continuing to provide services. This has not been an easy task, but as we emerge from the initial - and very frightening - onset of this pandemic, we know the 60,000 residents of 06010 will be stronger because we are all in this together and we are #BristolAllHeart.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is the Mayor of Bristol