NORTH SMITHFIELD – For the second time in recent months, a staff member at North Smithfield Town Hall has tested positive for COVID-19, but employees say they’re confident that the building has been kept safe from the virus, and grateful for Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski’s quick action on the threat.
NRI NOW learned this week that one staff member recently tested positive for the virus, along with two of the individual’s family members.
Two staffers who had recent contact with a non-municipal employee reportedly expressed their concerns to Zwolenski on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
In reaction, Zwolenski asked North Smithfield Fire & Rescue Chief David Chartier if his department could provide testing for the pair. The fire department has access to rapid tests with results in 24 hours, normally used exclusively to ensure safety for the town’s emergency personnel .
Chartier’s team administered the tests the following day and while one came back negative, the second was positive.
The administrator, who recently began his first term in North Smithfield’s top office, followed up by requesting a second favor from the chief, asking to have every municipal staff member from Town Hall tested.
Chartier again complied, setting up two testing sites on Saturday, Dec. 12, and on Monday morning, all 18 came back negative.
“Typically, it is reserved for first responders, but it was requested by the administrator,” Chartier said. “We were able to accommodate.”
In addition to the tests, Zwolenski has implemented new cleaning procedures, including use of a backpack machine that sprays a fine mist of anti-viral compound typically used in food packing operations. The machine is now used daily by Public Works staff to disinfect every surface at Town Hall, from desks and chairs, to doors and hallways.
Hand sanitizer has been placed at the entrance to the building and desks are situated at least six feet apart. Staffers wear masks all day and clean their electronics with wipes.
And in place of the normal employee break room, lunches are eaten in a massive second-floor meeting room with no more than two people allowed in at a time.
It is the second time in recent months that the office has had a scare with the virus. One staff member filed a complaint with the union following a previous positive test in October.
According to Human Resource head Karen Bernadino, staff was grateful for the changes, and decisive action to test and protect employees.
“Everyone that works in this building – and I mean everyone – feels 100 percent protected now, with the new administration in here,” Bernadino told NRI NOW. “He really took the bull by the horn.”
“We want to keep our employees and their families safe,” she said.
The sentiments were echoed by Finance Clerk Denise Davis.
“To have somebody even care – I’m thrilled,” Davis said. “Not only does he care for the people in the town, he cares for the people that people that work for the town, which I think is wonderful.”
Davis said despite the positive case, she feels confident that she’s as safe as she can be while going to work.
And according to Bernadino, such changes have been just part of a new and refreshing atmosphere at Town Hall that improved morale and has the staff happy to come to work.
“The atmosphere in this place – everyone has been ecstatic,” Bernadino said. “Right now, it’s good to be the messenger.
The HR head noted that staff members have all bee very cooperative with requests because they’re pleased with the actions taken.
“He’s only been in office 16 days,” Bernadino said. “It’s amazing.”