HARWICH — The cost of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on the town. This week selectmen wrestled with increasing disinfection services in public comfort station and agreed to add a seasonal COVID-19 code inspector to the health department.
Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers told selectmen Monday that the town was getting complaints over the weekend about bathroom facilities at the beaches. In previous years the department of public works had a staff member clean the comfort station once a day. The cost from April to October was $40,000, $20,000 for the supplies and $20,000 in salaries, DPW Director Lincoln Hooper said.
The person who did the work last year does not want to do it this year, Hooper said, though someone else in the department is willing to take on the task, if that is the direction the town wants to take. Given the need to disinfect facilities, the town is looking contracted the service.
Health Director Meggan Eldredge said normal cleaning in the past did not include the disinfection step, which is required to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. She said the Center for Communal Disease recommends disinfection at least once a day. Because of heavy use of some comfort stations, some might need cleaning four of five times a day, she said.
Powers sought bids from three or four sanitation companies and received one. The bids requested were in two parts, one for cleaning and disinfecting twice a day, and the “gold standard,” three times a day, from June 27 through Columbus Day. The bid for twice a day cleanings was $88,574 and $118,246 for three times.
Powers said a portion of the cost could be covered under the federal CARES Act, and there is a better chance of coverage if the town is doing disinfection under a contract. The contract would cover 10 bathrooms, including those at the harbormaster’s office, comfort stations at beaches and at Brooks Park.
“Can we live with two times a day?” Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine asked.
Eldredge said five of the bathrooms would need cleaning four or five times a day and five only once. She said the normal cleaning included soap and water, and disinfection would take more time, 10 to 20 minutes more per bathroom. The use of chemicals to remove the virus requires a heightened level of training.
Selectman Stephen Ford recommended Powers go back to the sanitation company with a different proposal seeking cleaning three times a day in the high-use facilities and twice a day for those needing less attention. Powers agreed to inquire to find out the cost cost impact.
The bathrooms were scheduled to open on June 23. Powers said he wanted to have the disinfection plan in place for the opening of beaches on Saturday, June 27. The board approved a sanitation contract, leaving Powers to work out the details on cleaning of both high-level and low-level facilities. If the contract comes back at $75,000, it would be $35,000 over the cost of the services the DPW was providing, said Selectman Ed McManus.
Eldredge also made a pitch to selectmen for a full-time temporary COVID-19 code inspector to handle the regulations coming down from state and federal governments and help the health department handle complaints and inspections.
Presently, Eldredge said, one full-time inspector, a part-time inspector and herself must deal with a record number of building and septic system permits to review. They are receiving an overwhelming number of complaints relating to the pandemic, including and restaurant issues, overcrowding and people not wearing masks. There are a list of inspections to be conducted, including restaurants, swimming pools, tobacco control, and water sampling at beaches.
An inspector for a 16-week period would cost $14,000. Barnstable County is advertising to hire three to five inspectors to assist Cape towns, but that would mean getting an inspector for one day a week for Harwich and that is not enough, Eldredge said. The cost would be reimbursable under the CARES Act. Selectmen approved the request.