By ELLEN ZOPPO-SASSU
Bristolâ€™s recent â€śCovid Orange Alertâ€ť has city officials facing a series of intertwined economic, public health and public relations dilemmas.
How can we reduce the risk of infection? How do we keep schools open? How do we raise consumer confidence so businesses that are playing by all the safety rules are patronized? How do we provide for the basic needs of those who are being impacted through reduced work hours, social isolation, balancing childcare and work issues, and more?
It is not an exaggeration that elected officials, department heads, emergency management teams, first responders and other city staff now faces tremendous challenges in addition to the normal delivery of public services. At this time last year, covid-19 was not even on the cityâ€™s radar. Today, it is at the forefront of every decision we make. And as we look ahead to our weekly call with the state Department of Public Health on Thursday, the likelihood of Bristol moving to Red is high.
Unemployment and restricted operation of non-essential businesses has created insecurity for families. Schools are on a hybrid schedule and childcare facilities are closed or on reduced schedules, adding to the burden for parents trying to re-enter the workforce or those trying to balance remote work and childcare. In response to this, the Board of Education partnered with the Parks & Recreation Department, the Boys & Girls Club and Indian Rock to ensure parents had quality options for childcare so they could return to work.
It has never been more important for city departments to cross train and work together. Last week, the Parks Department worked to clear and make safe the Bristol Central High School cross country course at Rockwell Park that was filled with leaves and was slick due to the rain. And with several school custodians out, the Parks crew also stepped up to line the Bristol Eastern High School front field for the Bristol Central vs. Bristol Eastern girls soccer game.
Recently, the Fire Department was stretched with 18 members out on quarantine, requiring firefighters to be held over for extra shifts. This is the perfect example of how our actions could potentially affect our critical infrastructure workers in public safety, public works and elsewhere.
Even prior to covid, thousands of people in Connecticut were food insecure. According to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, this number more than doubled during the summer with nearly 1-out-of-4 households experiencing food insecurity. Addressing the threat of food insecurity became a priority. In partnership with the United Way, thousands of food boxes have been distributed in Bristol with the assistance of the Public Works, Bristol Police and the Cadets, our Community Emergency Response Team volunteers, Lake Compounce, the City Council and dozens of All-Heart volunteers.
There is also great concern for those with substance misuse issues and concerns about an increase in overdoses during the pandemic, and the need to curtail the vaping industry which is leading to a dangerous spike in nicotine addiction among young adults. The Mayorâ€™s Task Force on Opioids has been working to identify additional resources for those at risk, and to create pathways for recovery and support.
Tuesday, Bristol heads to the polls. To date, almost one-third of eligible Bristol voters have voted by absentee ballot. The Registrars, the Town & City Clerk and their staff have been working long hours to ensure that every vote counts. We encourage everyone to follow all of the covid protocols that are in place for Election Day. Please wear a mask and social distance while in line. If you have the flexibility to do so, please vote during the off-peak hours and avoid the morning and evening rush.
The Bristol-Burlington Health District is engaged in full-time contact tracing of covid cases. Recently, the school dental hygienists have been reassigned to the contact tracing team. As of last Friday, there have been 920 positive cases and on Friday night, health inspectors shut down a restaurant/bar that was in violation of sector rules. These inspections will continue and tickets will be issued to businesses and or organizers of events.
We as a community need to commit to masks, social distancing, good hygiene and avoiding large gatherings. When you feel covid fatigue trying your patience, think about the hundreds of health care workers, city workers, first responders and grocery store employees who were working on the front lines every day at the height of the pandemic and every day since, masked, and at risk. They are tired too, but they keep doing their jobs, and now itâ€™s our turn to do ours.
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu is the mayor of Bristol