Opinion: Changing Pandemic Requires Change in Town Response 

by | Aug 26, 2021

By Mark Schwager

The views expressed are my own and are not an official communication from the Town Council or Town of East Greenwich. 

Our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic are dramatically better since the availability of the coronavirus vaccine. Now, however, our community faces new challenges as the delta variant of the virus has driven an increase in infections, and Rhode Island falls into the category of high transmission for coronavirus. 

We would like to have the pandemic fit our timeline, but new variants of the virus, continued vaccine hesitancy and advances in scientific knowledge require us to respond to the virus’ timeline in order to protect the health of our community. 

At the Town Council’s Aug. 16 meeting, Town Manager Andrew Nota, acting as the town’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director, instituted measures to respond to our current information on coronavirus transmission. The manager has coordinated the town’s coronavirus response since the beginning of the pandemic. He participates continuously on statewide calls and meetings with officials from the Rhode Island Department of Health, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and a variety of other state agencies to stay current on the health, economic and social impact of the pandemic on our town. Using this information he put in place incremental changes to protect our community. 

Mask wearing in town buildings for vaccinated visitors with brief business is recommended but not required. It is required that any town employee or member of the public who has not been fully vaccinated, wear a mask in all public buildings. 

For long-duration, in-person meetings of the Town Council and other town boards and commissions the risk of coronavirus transmission is greater. Until our densely populated state sees a reduction in transmission rates, mask wearing is required of all parties at these indoor meetings. The town will have masks available to supply participants and residents with a mask if needed. 

I fully support the manager’s policy for masking at public meetings, and he will continue to monitor this situation and regularly report back to the council and the public on our town’s response to this public health challenge. 

I also commend our School Committee and superintendent for their unanimous support of universal masking and improved ventilation systems in our schools. Their actions align with recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Center for Disease Control, and our district’s physician. Thank you for your hard work and advocacy making sure our children have the best educational experience possible in this pandemic. 

COVID-19 continues to challenge our town’s health, economy and sense of well-being. Our local government response will continue to address the changing impacts of coronavirus on all these areas. Our community has stepped up to meet these challenges over the past 18 months, and as a community we will continue to adapt and respond as we navigate future challenges related to this pandemic. 

Mark Schwager is president of the East Greenwich Town Council.

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