Mayor Donna D. Holaday
May 14, 2020 COVID-19 UPDATE
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for listening in on this latest COVID-19 update. To date, there are 54 positive COVID-19 cases in Newburyport, and we have lost two residents due to the virus. We have been fortunate to have a low number of positive cases locally, and the state has seen a decline in new reported deaths and cases which is a move in the right direction.
As you may know, earlier this week Governor Baker released the basics for a four-phased, safe re-opening of Massachusetts- Start, Cautious, Vigilance and New Normal. Progression through each of the phases will be accomplished through a measured approach guided by scientific evidence and data pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifics as to which business sectors will be able to reopen in Phase one, and which will need to await further progress against the virus, will become clearer when the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board report is released early next week. I will speak more on this shortly, but I want to emphasize that the Governor is not simply reopening the economy on May 18th nor will Newburyport just let everything reopen.
As we continue together to work through these challenges, I want to commend members of our community for doing your part in working to flatten the curve of transmission of the virus. Most people continue to think of others first and make smart decisions every day. I know your compliance with the rules and guidelines has really helped, including staying at home except for essentials, social distancing, wearing face coverings in essential businesses and wearing them outdoors when we cannot keep that safe distance, avoiding gatherings, and washing our hands frequently. To clarify the issues around wearing a mask or face covering- you must have mask with you each time you go outside. If you are unable to safely social distance in any area, please wear your face covering or mask. The city has free cloth face masks available for residents in need of a mask; they can be obtained at the Newburyport Senior/Community Center at 331 High Street from 9am – 1pm every weekday. Call 978-462-0430 to make arrangements for other pick up times. Thank you to all the volunteers who have made the masks.
Playgrounds and athletic fields remain closed, including the skate park. We’ve also required that dogs be on-lease at all times in public areas until further notice. I have heard dog owners concerns and discontent with this; unfortunately it needed to be done. We were having major issues at one of the off-leash areas and closing this site only moves the problem. As neighboring communities have closed off-leash areas we also saw an increase in use. We anticipate being able to relax this restriction in the near future and I request your patience and understanding- this is a temporary situation. The rail trail, boardwalk, parks and other open spaces remain open in Newburyport. All public parking on Plum Island is closed; however the beaches and Parker River remain accessible to pedestrians for transitory use only – walking, jogging and biking. We will be working with the Town of Newbury on a reopening plan for the beaches and parking lot, in accordance with state guidelines. I have also been in contact with neighboring beach communities and with Southern Maine and New Hampshire representatives as we coordinate re-opening efforts.
The Superintendent and his team at the School Department are finalizing plans for the end-of-school traditions, such as high school graduation and senior week activities, 8th grade class day, and grade level transitions. In the meantime, schools, teachers, and students continue to navigate through on-line learning as we near the end of this school year. I cannot thank our school leaders, teachers, parents and students enough for all of your efforts- we have faced many challenges. The school year is winding down, so hang in there. The last day of school will be here in just a few weeks.
Additionally, the Newburyport School District and Newburyport Youth Services is partnering with Pettengill House, and launching an arts, crafts, and school supply program. The initiative will ensure that students have access to the supplies they need for their education and other enrichment activities while home.
We understand many families are waiting to hear whether we will be able to offer summer programming and camps this year. We do know that guidelines are currently being written by the CDC, but ultimately the states will be determining their own course of action. State guidance on these will come beginning with the Governor’s Advisory Board’s report next week. It’s likely that our summer camps will not be operating camps this year as in the past. There is still a lot of uncertainly, and we will adjust to whatever we need to do to keep our children and staff safe. Information will be sent out through Youth Services as soon as we have clearer directions.
Regarding the reopening of the state, I wish to share this very important information. Going forward, we need to take a measured approach as we think about opening any industry or any areas - whether it is business or social gatherings, it must be slow and steady. We expect that the Governor’s Advisory Board’s report will include details on the industries and businesses that may be included with each phase of the reopening. I want to be clear that non-essential business should not expect to be opening next week. We need to be patient until we receive information from the state. The goal of the phased reopening, based on public health guidance, is to methodically allow certain businesses, services, and activities to resume, while protecting public health and limiting a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases. It’s important to note that the Governor has advised that all is contingent on following the public health metrics to determine when phase one’s start of reopening begins, and when it is safe to move onto concurrent phases after that.
Here in Newburyport, we are working together with our local businesses to support them in every way possible as everyone plans for how we can re-open our local economy for employees and customers.
Our Economic Recovery Task Force continues to meet. We received over 300 survey responses from businesses and nonprofits and are analyzing responses to share with the task force and community. The Task Force has assembled representative focus groups by economic sector to begin developing reopening plans on the local level- restaurants, personal services, small business, retail, nonprofits, arts, general business and manufacturing. The focus groups will meet over the next two weeks and develop phased plans for the safe reopening of our local economy. In addition, we anticipate learning from these groups how the City, including its boards and commissions, can help play a role in facilitating a safe, thorough, and comprehensive reopening. I am also working with my department heads on a phased plan for reopening municipal buildings. This requires installing plexiglass shields in offices with customer counters, procuring sufficient PPEs, disinfectant, sanitizer and decisions on safe scheduling and access. Remote meetings, despite its challenges, will be the norm for many months.
This week, it was announced that Yankee Homecoming is canceled this year. In conjunction with state guidelines, the Board of Health, and our local public safety team, we have determined that no large-scale events such as parades and festivals will be allowed to take place over the summer. Smaller events that can run safely and comply with limitations to gatherings and social distancing will be considered by City officials and the Board of Health on a case-by-case basis. However, we do suggest that anyone planning events that bring people into close contact, like concerts and performances, begin trying to find alternatives. To be clear, this pertains to the summer, and events have not been canceled through the rest of the year. While summer events will not go on, we await more information and further guidance on the reminder of the calendar year.
We have The Newburyport Connected webpage on the city website, a resource for all, and have dedicated staff available to guide you. Please complete the online form and you will be contacted. You can also use this same form to request gifts cards for food, we have received many donations and would like to distribute these to anyone who needs assistance. And, remember to look at all of our resources and updates on the city website – www.cityofnewburyport.com.
Lastly, please know we are committed to doing everything we can to protect both the public health and economic vitality of our community.
There is no question that the people in our Newburyport community continue to display the very best everyday – people caring for and looking after each other- donating food, supplies and PPEs, shopping for those in need, placing birdfeeders on the outside windows of nursing home residents, and so many other wonderful acts of kindness- People putting others first.
We are slowly moving forward and I ask all to continue working with us as we safely and cautiously begin the opening of the city based on the guidelines from Gov. Baker and the Advisory Board anticipated early next week. No non-essential businesses may open next week until authorized.
Thank you to all of you. Be safe and stay well.