Many of southeastern Connecticut’s local governments are restricting public access to town halls and asking residents to call or email rather than show up in person in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
As of Monday, Waterford, Stonington, and Lyme have closed their town halls to the public, although staff continues to work and will offer services if contacted by phone or email. Libraries and public works facilities in those towns have also closed.
Transfer stations in Waterford and Stonington will remain open but staff may be limited in how much they’re able to help the public, according to statements from Waterford First Selectman Rob Brule and Stonington First Selectman Danielle Cheesebrough.
Waterford has canceled all of its board and commission meetings for the rest of March, Stonington has canceled all meetings deemed “non-essential,” and Lyme’s First Selectman Steven Mattson ordered all board and commissions meetings either be canceled or held by phone.
Old Saybrook’s First Selectman Carl Fortuna said in a Monday phone call that Old Saybrook Town Hall will be closed to the public except for “essential” activities such as paying taxes, filing land records, and title searches. He added that town hall staff would continue working and would be available for assistance by phone or email.
“The idea is to continue to have government do what it is supposed to do,” Fortuna said. “People have enough problems in their lives. They don’t need us causing them more. If that person needs a building permit, I want them to get that permit. If they need an inspection, I would like for that inspection to occur.”
Fortuna said that some board and commission meetings would likely be canceled, but he expects the budget to remain on schedule and aims to prevent a “logjam” of government business when the threat from the virus wanes.
New London town offices will remain open, but staff from the mayor’s office explained that residents are asked to call ahead so that staff can offer assistance over the phone or arrange an in-person appointment with minimal human-to-human contact.
The boards of selectmen for Old Lyme and East Lyme are set to hold meetings Monday night covering their responses to the virus. New London’s city council and public welfare committee are also set to meet this evening.
At present, neither Old Lyme nor East Lyme have yet closed their town halls to the public, although a statement from East Lyme’s office of the Chief of Police outlined that staff will be taking extra steps to sanitize facilities and meetings with the public could be limited at some staff offices.
In another statement on East Lyme’s website, First Selectman Mark Nickerson said, “As we continue to look to the experts for the facts and predictions of this pandemic, we have been busy preparing for the situation to get worse. In turn, we have put immediate measures into place that aim to control the spread of this virus. In the coming days and weeks, more will be done.”
Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman said by phone Monday that town hall services would be by appointment only as of Monday morning. He said that non-essential government meetings could be canceled and essential meetings will be moved to larger public spaces to reduce immediate contact between people.
Needleman said that he expected town services would be able to manage the stricter scheduling and urged the public to take the virus’s threat seriously.
“It’s going to be astoundingly disruptive for a while. The hope is that this level of disruption convinces people to take this seriously,” Needleman said. “My biggest fear is that people are just blowing this off.”