BURRILLVILLE – In a move that temporarily suspends certain legal requirements, and gives town officials the authority to take action to curb the spread of COVID 19, the Burrillville Town Council declared a State of Emergency on Monday, March 16.
The town’s emergency order will run in conjunction with the state of emergency passed by Gov. Gina Raimondo, giving Burrillville flexibility to react to ongoing news about the virus.
“This is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Town Manager Michael Wood in discussion of the rule change. “It’s probably a two month problem.”
“The point is to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus, and try to keep people as safe as possible,” explained Town Solicitor William Dimitri.
The order authorizes Wood to adjust hours and staffing at Town Hall and other municipal offices, and Town Council President John Pacheco to call or cancel town meetings, and make other changes that would not normally be in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings law.
“There’s a lot of things going on,” said Wood, noting that his office is still processing directions from the governor stated at a press conference just before Burrillville’s emergency meeting Monday afternoon. “Every city and town is doing something a little different.”
Burrillville’s emergency order gives Pacheco power to rescind or extend the status as needed.
“For the next two weeks, we should shut everything possible down,” said Pacheco. “I’d rather be accused of overreacting than under-reacting. We’re all in foreign territory here.”
Councilor Dennis Anderson noted that the change falls in the middle of the town’s annual budget planning.
“There’s a lot of different points to discuss,” said Wood, noting of meetings, “If we can do them by video conference we can do them. There’s a lot of stuff going on that we’re going to have to deal with.”
“You can also – by your authority – not put frivolous things on the agenda,” Wood said to Pacheco.
Councilor Donald Fox asked emergency officials in attendance if they had received supplies from the Department of Health, and was told that the town’s fire districts have received a total of 360 N-95 masks.
Col. Stephen Lynch noted that while his department has many lower-grade masks, none of the N-95s have been provided to police departments in Rhode Island.
“It was asked ‘What about law enforcement as first responders?’ and the answer was ‘no,'” Lynch said.
“If you have to take someone with the virus into the police station, that would be extremely problematic,” Councilor Raymond Trinque said.
Lynch noted that he’s currently working on making arrangements with the fire districts to secure some of the masks for officers.
“We’re working through that,” Lynch said. “The masks are primarily for those that are sick, not for those that are healthy.”
Councilor Amanda Gingell, who works with the Harrisville Fire District, said, “Us as a town working together are going to get a lot more done than the Department of Health.”
Trinque noted that he’s concerned about how Raimondo’s order on Monday to close restaurants will affect both the workers and the businesses.
“I’m interested in doing whatever we can safely to keep them in business,” Trinque said.
But Fox noted that there’s not a lot that the council, as a board, has the authority to do.
“I think every town in the state feels the same way, but is under the same restrictions,” said Fox. “I think we have to hope our federal delegation is going to pass something.”
“I think the governor is cognizant of that,” added Pacheco.
The order also gave School Committee Chairman Mark Brizard the authority to cancel or call meetings of his board as deemed necessary.
“They’re going to have a lot on their plate too,” Pacheco said.
Brizard noted that free “grab and go” lunches have been made available on weekdays at Callahan School for anyone under the age of 18.
Anderson said he was concerned that families might not have transportation available to grab a bag,
“I’m sure there’s some families that are in quite a state of disarray,” Anderson said pointing to this week’s unexpected cancellation of school.
Wood said ideas going forward to help residents could include delivery, and creation of a swap station for those in need of emergency supplies, and that the town may be seeking volunteers for such services.
“Hopefully we can do something to help people in town if they need help,” Wood said.
Trinque noted that while many of the larger stores in the area are out of necessities such as cleaning wipes and toilet paper, “Our local stores are actually in pretty good shape.”
Officials noted that many details regarding government services will need to be ironed out as more information is known about the spread of the virus, an unprecedented threat not just to the town or the state, but the world.
“I can’t even believe we’re having this meeting,” Pacheco said.
NRI NOW will continue to cover local actions taken in reaction to the virus. Notices from the town are available on the homepage, nrinow.news and will be continually updated.