By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
Local municipal leaders are gradually starting to put the public back into public service a year after the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the state.
State-mandated coronavirus-related capacity limits on businesses, houses of worships, entertainment and sports venues, and social and recreational gatherings were lifted March 19. As the state lifted restrictions, officials are looking to get back to business as somewhat usual.
Beacon Falls Town Hall is once again open to the public, but by appointment only. People can call Town Hall at 203-729-4340 to make an appointment. Protocols, like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, are still in effect.
“I’m very happy to welcome the public to Town Hall and being able to see everybody in person with a mask on,” Beacon Falls First Selectman Gerard Smith said.
Board and commission meetings will transition from virtual to in-person meetings on April 1, Smith said. Meetings will take place either at Town Hall or the Beacon Falls Senior Center, he said.
The logistics of reopening the senior center for programming are still being worked out, Smith said. However, Beacon Falls Public Library is reopened. Smith said the library will be limited to about eight people at a time. Computer services will be available, but there won’t be any personal assistance on computers, he said.
In Naugatuck, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the Board of Mayor and Burgesses plans to hold hybrid meetings starting in April. Meetings will be in person at the Naugatuck Event Center and online through Zoom.
Hess said officials don’t anticipate a problem with capacity and will address any if they come up.
Land use boards also plan to hold hybrid meetings at the event center, Zoning Enforcement Officer Ed Carter said.
Naugatuck Town Hall has remained open to the public throughout the pandemic, though people are now greeted by a worker in the lobby before being allowed into offices.
“We never closed (Town Hall). We’ve been operating at full capacity during the entire COVID pandemic and we will continue to do so,” Hess said.
Howard Whittemore Memorial Library Director Jessica Jahnke said the hope is to reopen the borough library in time for summer reading.
“We are giving the staff a chance to be fully vaccinated before we open our doors,” Jahnke said.
Libraries across the state have offered an array of virtual programs and curbside pickup for books and crafts during the pandemic.
Naugatuck Senior Center Director Harvey Frydman said the decision to reopen the center will be made based on health conditions in the state.
“If there is a reopening, it’s going to be slowly in April or May,” Frydman said.
Prospect is taking a more prudent approach as its town buildings remain closed.
“I’m going to be very cautious,” Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield said. “I’m not taking this lightly.”
Chatfield and town department heads met with Chesprocott Health District officials on Monday to discuss reopening plans for town buildings.
Council member Megan Patchkofsky said during the March 16 Town Council meeting officials plan to pay for a digital monitoring system called SwipedOn to register people who go into town buildings for contact tracing purposes, when buildings reopen. She said the system, which costs about $99 a month, is a necessary step to help keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“At this point,” she said, “we need to monitor who comes in and out of buildings.”
The council is expected to discuss returning to in-person meetings or conducting hybrid meetings during the next several meetings. For now, officials will continue to hold meetings virtually.
“We all have to just play it safe and do it the right way,” Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas said.
Chatfield said people can use basketball courts and playscapes in parks again. The town closed off these areas last year to avoid people congregating.
“All parks are open,” he said.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.