Hampden Emergency management team closes town buildings in the face of outbreak

March 17, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN – Hampden convened a meeting of its emergency management team on March 13 to decide on a course of action in response to the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic.

The town’s emergency management team consists of a representative from the fire department, Board of Health Agent Lori McCool, Council on Aging (COA) Director Becky Moriarty, Interim Town Administrator Bob Markel, Select Board members John Flynn and Mary Ellen Glover and Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth, who leads the team.

The team discussed the closure of public buildings. Markel said that the Town Hall had been sanitized the previous night, March 12, and he recommended restricting public access to the town offices for two weeks, putting hand sanitizer at the doors and allowing only town employees to access the building.

 “We’ve got to keep the basic functions of government going,” Markel said. Glover agreed and said the select board still needs to meet every two weeks to stay on top of issues.

In light of Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order amending the public meeting laws to allow meetings to take place without a physical quorum and without the public being present, Markel said the town may want to examine using video conferencing software, such as Zoom, to conduct meetings and then post the video online. It was also recommended that public board meetings be postponed, except for essential business. The Hampden Public Library will also be closed to the public for two weeks as it is located in Town Hall.

He said the public would still be able to contact the town via phone and the website.

Flynn spoke against declaring a town-wide state of emergency, noting that if the state doesn't force the town to make that move, it will not pay for the financial hardships that result.

Moriarty noted that many senior centers in the area had already closed. She said the Hampden Senior Center has already been receiving calls from residents of surrounding towns interested in using the senior center because the ones in their towns are closed.

“It would be in our best interest to follow their lead,” Moriarty said. She said seniors could still access Tuesday tax preparation and emergency senior services by appointment if necessary. She had already arranged to have meals delivered to those seniors that need it. During its closure, the senior center will be sanitized.

As of the March 13 meeting, the senior center was scheduled to reopen on March 30. After that, the focus will shift to limiting crowds. Moriarty noted that some programs, such as Wednesday pitch games bring in over 60 people and would have to be suspended until the situation is under control. Farnsworth said the town would need to “limit public interactions for a time until we can get a better handle on it.”

The COA will not be providing transportation during this time. Moriarty said that referrals were being given for non-coronavirus-related healthcare to Dispatch Health, a mobile health service that makes house calls.

During emergency calls, Farnsworth said dispatch is listening for clues to tip them off to potential infection. He explained that there had been a change in emergency response protocols that will allow first responders to place a medical mask outside the entrance to a residence so ambulatory patients can retrieve it before being treated. This will limit the likelihood of responders becoming infected while treating patients. He said that emergency services had a stockpile of 500 adult masks and approximately 250 children's masks to use during the outbreak as needed.

Farnsworth emphasized that the emergency management team’s job going forward is “managing public perception.”

“Consistent messaging is key,” McCool said. “If somebody is not feeling well, you should stay home.” If they are in need of healthcare, she said, they should call ahead.

McCool agreed to make a public service announcement recommending postponing all gatherings and adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Public Health.

At Moriarty’s request, Farnsworth put out a robocall regarding the senior center closures since some seniors do not have access to the town website. Notices regarding the closure of town buildings have been posted at the entrances. The emergency management team will meet again on March 26 at 1 p.m in the Town Hall.

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