From the current number of Coronavirus cases in Chelsea, to the mechanics of social distancing, to questions about high school graduation and parking tickets, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino and several city leaders held a public meeting Monday night unlike any in the City’s history.
City business will continue, but in a much different form than during normal circumstances, Ambrosino said.
It was billed as a live community question and answer session on the coronavirus, with Ambrosino leading the event and Supt. Almi Abeyta, City Nurse Paula McHatton, Police Chief Brian Kyes, and Fire Chief Leonard Albanese joining in on conference call. The event was broadcast live on local cable and on the School Department’s Facebook page.
The highlight of Abeyta’s remarks were her assurance that the Chelsea High School Class of 2020 will graduate this June, although it might be a later date in the month than initially scheduled.
Throughout the hour-long program Ambrosino repeatedly underscored the seriousness of the worldwide pandemic, and noted that the fast-changing nature of the situation means that the information on the virus and efforts to contain it could change from one day to the next.
“Every public health expert in the United States and the world is advising us that the way to prevent this virus is by social distancing,” said Ambrosino. “I understand that we are in an unprecedented situation that I think few of us have ever experienced before. There is no standard procedure for cities and towns to deal with, and facts about this virus are fast changing and new information is arriving very rapidly.
“As the City and the City Manager, we are making decisions every day with the best information we have. Because the information is changing rapidly, sometimes our information can change from day to day, and that’s just the nature of the crisis and we ask for your patience.”
Across the state, all schools have been ordered closed until at least April 6.
“Until further notice, we have also closed the library, the Senior Center, and City Hall to the public,” said the City Manager. “We are still conducting City business, but we are doing it with a very limited staff in this building. The majority of our employees are working remotely from home.”
The closing will have some impact on city business, and Ambrosino highlighted some of those impacts.
•The appeal period for parking tickets in the City has been extended by 30 days, as long as residents still had time as of Monday to file an appeal on the tickets. Any ticket issued on or after Feb. 22 now has a 30 day extension of the appeal period, Ambrosino said.
•Residential parking sticker renewals have been extended until June 1. Ambrosino noted that while the renewal period has been extended, they can be renewed at any time online or by mail.
•Also, during the period in which City Hall is closed, Ambrosino said enforcement of the residential parking sticker program has been suspended.
“Other parking violations will still be enforced by the police, but not the residential sticker parking,” he said.
•Excise tax bills, which were originally due on March 25, have an extended due date of April 28. The February water bills, which were originally due on March 23 are now due on April 21.
“Let me repeat the important part of this, while City Hall is closed to the public, you can continue to interact with us online or by mail,” said Ambrosino. “In fact, most business at City Hall these days can always be done online.”
Ambrosino answered several questions which were submitted prior to the live session by residents. He said that trash and recycling will continue on a regular schedule, and that the City’s street sweeping program will also continue.
For those with questions or concerns about City services, Ambrosino said the best tactic residents can take is calling the 311 information line, which has live operators on duty during normal City Hall business hours.
While much of life across the City and the country has been put on hold, Ambrosino pointed out that there is one important effort that is continuing with no delays.
“The U.S. Census effort continues, and it is critically important to the City that you fill out the Census,” he said. “Many have received the Census document in the mail, and this is the official Census document, this is not a scam. You can do it easily online while we are all stuck with a lot of time at home.”
•Abeyta answered several questions from the public, noting that family members are eligible to pick up students’ school lunches at pickup points without students being present at all distribution points and that the Pre-Kindergarten registration deadline will be extended.
She also answered a question about the graduation date.
“The high school graduating class of 2020 will graduate in June,” she said. “However, there may be a later date in June.”
•McHatton answered several questions about the health impacts of coronavirus and testing.
If anyone feels they may have coronavirus symptoms, McHatton said they should isolate themselves at home and monitor their symptoms, and if the symptoms get worse, contact their health provider. If someone doesn’t have a doctor, she said they should go to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room.
Dr. Dean Xerras, the medical director of Massachusetts General Hospital in Chelsea, stressed the importance of preventing the transmission of the virus from one person to another.
“The important thing to remember about the virus is that we need to prevent the transmission to other people, and some of the things you will hear us talking about now, like social distancing, like self-quarantine, these are strategies that will help prevent transmission and spread to other people,” Xerras said. “I want to stress, as a doctor in the medical community, we’re not afraid of the virus, we’re afraid of so many people getting sick at the same time. These strategies are critical in preventing a big surge in cases.”
•Ending up the meeting, Kyes and Albanese both stressed that police and fire personnel will be providing all emergency services the City expects. Albanese did encourage anyone who calls emergency services to let 9-1-1 operators know if anyone in their house has cold or flu symptoms so they can take proper precautions.
Kyes also noted that anyone who has a call that is not an emergency should call (617) 004-2064.
“The City will continue to update this information daily on our website and through social media with the most up-to-date information,” said Ambrosino. “Together, we will get through this crisis.”