CHATHAM – When he extended the state emergency order to May 18, Governor Charlie Baker also announced the formation of a reopening advisory board, which was charged with developing a phased plan to reopen the economy by May 18. The plan will likely have a big impact on how the town, and local businesses, approach the coming summer season.
It's also likely that the plan will leave some decisions up to local authorities. Town officials will be seeking input on how to approach those decisions in an online forum next Monday, May 11.
“We know the governor will have parameters,” including social distancing requirements and limits on gatherings, “but from a community level there'll be a lot of decisions we're going to have to make,” said Select Chair Shareen Davis, including whether to cancel, postpone or allow summer events to take place as usual. Before doing that, the board wants to provide stakeholders, including year-round and summer residents, merchants and the nonprofit community, an opportunity to provide input.
Officials have been getting a lot of questions about the summer, she said, most commonly whether Friday night band concerts will be held and whether the town's Independence Day parade, which attracts tens of thousands of people, and July 2 fireworks, will happen. The chamber of commerce and Chatham Merchants Association have also been meeting to strategize how to reopen businesses, deal with summer crowds as well whether to hold the Mondays on Main music events. The health board voted Monday to require that business post signs mandating that everyone entering wear a face covering, but held off on other restrictions pending Monday's forum.
“These are things the board of selectmen will have to set some policy on,” Davis said, balancing public health with the fact that the summer is the town's economic engine.
Some Cape towns have already canceled all summer events, but Chatham selectmen are not ready to do that, Davis said.
“We really want to hear from the town, so that when we do make those decisions, they know we've listened to their concerns,” she said. “We also want to let people know we're supporting businesses and nonprofits and how [to continue functioning] in a safe and effective way.”
On Monday, the health board considered steps it might take to reduce the spread of the virus in town, but held off on decisions that impact downtown and summer events until after the May 11 forum.
The health board authorized staff to immediately promulgate an emergency order requiring signs to be prominently posted on the doors of local businesses reminding patrons that they must wear face coverings in order to enter. Yesterday, a state order took effect requiring people to wear face coverings inside public buildings including grocery stores and pharmacies, and to also wear them outside in places where it is impossible to stay six feet away from others. The rule applies to people over the age of 2, and carries a potential $300 fine per violation. Chatham will also require signs to be posted in the public spaces of congregate living facilities, like the laundry rooms and lobbies of apartment buildings.
Though Health and Environment Director Robert Duncanson said there’s little danger of transmission between people who pass each other on the sidewalk, health board members expressed concerns about the safety of pedestrians in downtown Chatham this summer. Chairman John Beckley said if the goal is to maintain six feet of social distancing, “there’s no way to walk up and down the sidewalk of Chatham with two-way traffic.” Board members expressed interest in an order put in place by the Provincetown health board which requires people to wear masks outdoors along a portion of their congested commercial district.
“It’s definitely something to consider,” Duncanson told the board. He said town officials and business leaders have also spoken about the possibility of prohibiting on-street parking along portions of Main Street so pedestrians can give each other more distance.
Monday's session will be “just listening,” Davis said, with no deliberation or decisions being made by the board. It will be similar to forums held by the Chatham 365 Task Force last year, which, like the May 11 meeting, will be moderated by Brad Schiff, president of communications firm Pierce-Cote and former chair of the Independence Day Parade committee. Like the Chatham 365 forums, participants will given three minutes each to respond to five questions:
How do we handle large public gatherings?
How can we establish a consistent set of town-wide guidelines for safety?
How do businesses and nonprofits operate effectively and safely?
How do we ensure that there is a clear understanding and enforcement of the established guidelines?
What else do we need to consider?
“The whole idea is to be able to give a platform for all the stakeholders in town to be able to express their concerns, their ideas, as well as their thoughts on how to balance safety and health with getting chatham up and going for the summer season,” said Schiff. The questions will help focus participants to “make this a productive session for everybody,” he added.
“We understand this can evoke strong emotions as people’s health and, in many cases, livelihoods, are at stake,” Davis said. “But we also believe that levelheaded decision-making is a necessity. The concerns and feelings of the community are first and foremost on the minds of the board of selectmen.”
The virtual forum will be held on the Zoom video conferencing platform from 6 to 9 p.m. Visit zoom.us and use the meeting ID 945 8332 2640, with password 02633; there is also a link on the town's website. The forum will also be broadcast live on Channel 18 and at youtube.com/chathamchannel18/live.
Participants in the virtual forum can provide feedback and ask questions live or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants can also call in through six telephone numbers set up by location; the numbers are posted on the town's website.
Alan Pollock contributed to this story
COVID-19 Community Forum
Monday, May 11, 6 to 9 p.m.
Log in to Zoom.us at tinyurl.com/ycbbhwve
Meeting ID: 945 8332 2640, password 02633
Call in number details at www.chatham-ma.gov