Opening up will be possible, but questions remain about economics of it all
There is a bit of good news this week regarding the numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Chelsea day over day, with the numbers of new cases reported to the City declining significantly over the last four days.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he is encouraged by the numbers – noting that the numbers of new cases have been in the 20s rather than the 70s over the last few days.
“We have to be careful, but the data suggests we are on the downside,” said Ambrosino. “The last four nights we have had decreases on our new cases. We were averaging about 70 per day and then two nights we came down, and then the last two nights we were in the 20s.”
As of May 5, the City had registered 2,184 confirmed cases, with 491 people having recovered from the virus. Sadly, 110 people have died as a result of COVID-19.
It is a marked slowdown from weeks before.
Chelsea is also probably one of the most mask-compliant cities in the area. While some people can be seen without a mask or face covering in public, the vast majority do wear masks. Those masks are readily available and handed out at food pantries, distribution centers and medical facilities free of charge to everyone.
“I do feel people are very aware here and taking precautions,” said Ambrosino. “I have no doubt when we open to everyone, inevitably there will be a spike in the cases here and elsewhere.”
Ambrosino said they are looking toward the guidance of the state’s task force on opening, and municipal leaders are monitoring that and making sure their voices are heard.
He said he can see a situation where retail establishments could open in the coming weeks.
“I can see retail opening with limited occupancy,” he said. “I don’t see why that would be significantly different from grocery stores with limited occupancy. I think restaurants are different because it will be hard. The majority will have tables six feet apart and most are small already. Whether these restaurants can survive with limited occupancy is unknown…I do think businesses can open with appropriate restrictions. The question is can they survive economically with the restrictions that will be required.”
Some of those requirements for restaurants and all businesses will be staying six fee from one another, supplying employees with PPE, face coverings for employees and customers and other measures.
As for City Hall, Ambrosino has said the last two weeks he has June 1 circled on his calendar as an aspirational date to get things in City Hall rolling.
“I’ve been talking about June 1 as a date that is plausible,” he said. “If we were to open up then, it would be slowly. There will be social distancing in City Hall. People will be spread out and the normal things we understand to happen in City Hall wouldn’t be allowed. People will get used to it. It’s just like people got used to the security and restrictions in the airport after 9/11. They grumble at first, but they get used to it. When we open up, if someone doesn’t have a mask on, it will draw attention.”
He said they still need two good weeks of having the COVID-19 under control – meaning no growth in new cases. That has not yet happened.
•FOOD DELIVERY LIKELY TO RATCHET DOWN IN LATE MAY
The food distribution system the City has embarked on has been a Herculean effort, and the pop-up pantries are now preparing around 1,000 or more boxes per day.
Ambrosino said the goal is 1,500 per day, but they would probably end up reaching the 1,300 mark before ratcheting down later this month.
“We seem to be at the 400 box per day mark with the National Guard,” he said. “We’d like to ramp up deliveries to 500 a day. I think we’ll get there by next week.”
Once people begin going back to work, he said he doesn’t think the need for food in Chelsea will be as great as it is now.
“We will slowly ratchet down the public distribution of food and maintain home deliveries as much as we can to accommodate COVID-19 patients,” he said. “At some point I have to start returning Planning Department employees to the Planning Department and DPW to the regular DPW work. We have to eventually get back to filling potholes and fixing signs again.”