Local officials outline coronavirus precautions, modifications

📸 Screenshot from Facebook Live video hosted by Southbridge Police Department on Tuesday, March 24.

SOUTHBRIDGE — Collaborative efforts are underway to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus while maintaining necessary services in the community.

Town Councilor David Adams and Police Chief Shane Woodson took to social media on Tuesday afternoon with their first Facebook Live video briefing residents about local efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Officials said the video, streamed live from the police station, would be later broadcast on local cable access as well.

The livestream video lasted about 15 minutes with Adams and Woodson sharing information and updates on a variety of topics related to how town officials are handling COVID-19. Decisions are made through the community’s emergency operations center, or EOC, which is comprised of town and school officials, Board of Health officials, command staff from the police and fire departments, hospital officials, and numerous elected officials. The EOC first met on Sunday, March 22, and have held daily briefings since.

“This EOC, for the community’s purposes, is a single point of decision making where all of our comprehensive strategies are being developed and deployed community-wide,” explained Woodson.

Meals on Wheels, school meals ‘absolutely urgent’

While much of the focus of local, state, and federal officials is on slowing the spread of COVID-19, one key area for the EOC is ensuring some of the most vulnerable are being fed. The local Meals on Wheels program continues to operate in order to help senior citizens in need, while Southbridge Public Schools are serving hundreds of meals each day to children who may otherwise go hungry. Adams said filling the need is “absolutely urgent.”

“Meals on Wheels is still going strong,” explained Adams. “It is still going, the routes are still open.”

Woodson noted the school meals program has been very successful.

“They’re now serving about 500 meals a day, and that’s growing every day,” he said. “Some of our children in this community would not have eaten without that school meal program.”

Breakfast and lunch has been available to all local children ages 18 and under, as well as enrichment activities, at each of the town’s three elementary schools and the Brookside Terrace apartment complex. Meals consisting of lunch for the current day and breakfast for the following morning are available in a drive-through set-up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Brookside Terrace, Charlton Street School, Eastford Road School, and West Street School. An additional meal distribution site at the former high school on Cole Avenue has been discontinued due to a lack of interest from residents, Adams and Woodson reported.

“You’ve got plenty of opportunities to eat,” asserted Woodson. “There is no excuse for children to go hungry and we’re going to make sure that no matter what happens with COVID-19 that program continues.”

Public services continue with modifications

Though public buildings have been closed to the public, most services continue to be provided, though with modifications in access and manners in which officials respond.

Woodson said while police services will continue, non-emergency calls will be handled as remotely as possible in order to slow the potential spread of COVID-19.

“We continue to operate fully staffed. All emergency calls are going to be answered without delay. If you’ve got an emergency, call 911; we will absolutely respond,” said Woodson. “The important thing is if it’s not an emergency, call our business line at 508-764-5420. We have dispatchers who will answer the phone.”

When non-emergency calls are made to the police department, trained dispatchers will pre-screen callers before officers are dispatched.

“They are not designed to invasive in any way, shape or form, but before we send police officers to any call some of these questions will be, ‘Have you left the country in the last week?’, ‘Have you had a fever?’, ‘Have you had a sore throat?’, ‘Have you had any other symptoms of COVID-19?’, things such as that,” Woodson explained. “It’s a very uncertain time right and we just want to keep everybody safe.”

If a caller has answered in the affirmative to any of the questions, police will still respond to the issue at hand, but seek to do so over the phone or by asking the caller to meet them on the sidewalk rather than at their front door. The same holds true with individuals entering the police station itself.

“Rather than coming into the lobby and possibly spreading the virus, rather than having our cops go to your apartment and transmitting the virus from us to you or you to us, we’re trying to handle everything that’s not immediate over the telephone,” said Woodson. “If you need our help, we’ll be there. You have my assurance on that.”

He later added: “We’re here for you. Absolutely paramount is your safety, it’s our safety. We want to flatten the curve.”

In other public buildings, such as Town Hall, in-person services are closed until further notice, but employees continue to do their jobs all the same, explained Adams.

“Town employees are still working,” Adams said. “Some are working remotely, some are within the building itself.”

Contact information for various town offices and officials is available on the Town’s website. Also available on the Town website are PDF files, available in English and Spanish, providing the most recent information regarding the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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