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Library Board wrestles with COVID reopening decisions

The Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees meets Wednesday on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Public Library’s reopening plan is set to expand – in January. If it’s possible.

The heavy decision making came at Wednesday’s Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees meeting, with Chairman Alex Knopp successfully arguing that COVID-19 cases are increasing, so best to delay any changes until after the holidays.

The major issue was how many people to allow into the library’s community rooms. Norwalk Public Library Director Sherelle Harris had suggested increasing the numbers to a maximum 50 in the main library and 40 in SoNo; Knopp wanted to require proof of vaccination but said this would mean a fight with the City.

Allowing more people in now would “send the wrong message in the wrong time,” Knopp said.

While the Board voted to maintain the previously agreed upon maximum number of 25 in the main library and 15 in SoNo, Harris succeeded in reinstating staff programming. So, in-person events could resume with the same population restrictions, and everyone required to wear masks.

In September, the Board lightened its restrictions, allowing in mask-wearing patrons while limiting the length of time patrons can study and use computers “to ensure access to as many people as possible.” There’s a limit of how many people can be on a library floor: 25 in the main library and 15 in SoNo. Visitors are required to sign in for contact tracing purposes and social distancing is mandatory.

Harris said, “we have not been so bombarded…  where we’ve had to put people out. So I think even if we lift you know, the restrictions per floor, I don’t think that we’re going to see many more people coming in. We already see the major thing is the two community rooms.”

Norwalk is seeing an increase in our COVID-19 metrics of new cases and case rates, Mayor Harry Rilling reported Friday.

“While new cases had been trending younger in recent weeks in Norwalk, the majority of new cases are those 30-49 and 60-69 years of age,” the Rilling update said. “As a result of this increase, we have left the gray level (less than 5 cases per 100,000 residents) of the state Health Department metrics and are now back into the yellow level with a case rate of 5.7 per 100,000 residents. We are clearly seeing the impacts of the Halloween holiday, social gatherings, and the colder weather, as this current reporting period covers the dates of October 31 through November 13.”

Rilling said, “For the two recent weeks, the CDC {Centers for Disease Control and Prevention} was reporting Fairfield County as having moderate community transmission. However, earlier this week, Fairfield County moved back into substantial transmission. All of Connecticut is now showing substantial or high community COVID-19 transmission, in which the CDC recommends everyone should wear facemasks in indoor, public settings.”

“I think in the long run, the only really effective tool against this virus is a vaccine mandate,” Knopp said Wednesday. “I think everything else is going to fall short. There’ll be spikes and valleys and new spikes. And we won’t be able to try to do a knockout, unless there’s a vaccine mandate.”

You have to show proof of vaccination to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square and to get into Madison Square Garden, he said.

“I’m concerned that if we open up these two community rooms to large groups of 40 and 50 people, even though they’re below the capacity of the rooms, without requiring vaccination proof, that we’re just going to be complicit in failing to take an important step to help kill this virus,” Knopp said.

He’s “discussed” this with Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels and “he does not believe that the city will authorize this,” Knopp said. “On the other hand, we control what happens in the library…. I believe we could mandate, but it would be a, you know, an unpleasant fight with the city.”

Staff are required to be vaccinated, he said.

They’re not, Harris countered. They are either vaccinated or they have to be tested weekly.

“So we’ve required vaccination or weekly testing at their expense. So I call that a vaccine mandate,” Knopp said.

The Lockwood Mathews Mansion held an event over the weekend where people were required to show proof of vaccination, and that’s also a City building, said Board of Trustees member Patsy Brescia, who also serves on the LMMM Board of Trustees.

While a few chose not to attend, “People seem to be grateful that we were taking those precautions,” she said. “That was the experience we had. And we were, you know, we were conflicted over it. It was a lot of different opinions and took us a long time to make the decision what to do.”

Harris said people ask why Norwalk’s library isn’t opening when surrounding communities have opened their libraries.

“I’m getting the comments, either via email by phone, ‘what’s taking us so long?’ And I get it, you know, there’s some people who are very apprehensive, and then there’s some, you know, it’s just, it’s a divide, it’s even a political divide of the people who just want to get back to normal and the people who, you know, want to be a little more cautious.”

She reached out to other communities and found two library systems requiring proof of vaccine, including Stamford.

Norwalk’s City Hall requires masks while Westport’s does not, Knopp said, arguing that different communities have different standards.

Brescia asked if there have been a lot of requests to rent the community rooms.

“We’re getting more and more, like for January, February,” Harris said. “So you know what we’re telling them now, especially the ones who want to have larger groups is that we just let them know our capacity limit, and that we would get back to them if anything changes.”

Knopp said, “If somebody rented a room for 20 people, because they want to have an event or party, I’m sorry. Public Health takes precedence.”

4 comments

Patriot November 24, 2021 at 10:26 am

“Knopp wanted to require proof of vaccination but said this would mean a fight with the City.”

More like a fight with the Constitution. If you don’t respect our Constitution, then leave this country, no offense. You do NOT have the right to force me to inject myself with experimental drugs for a virus with a 99% survival rate (CDC’s own data).

This entire pandemic has only shown how our schools utterly fail to teach statistics.

A library is a publicly funded organization, no vaccine requirement should exist to receive its services.

Get off your high horse and recognize people have RIGHTS because of the CONSTITUTION.

Biden’s vaccine mandate is backtracking by the way…because it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

Shari Brennan November 25, 2021 at 7:28 pm

If you think a library is a publicly funded organization, I am therefore part of that public, which agrees that if masks or vaccines and/ or limiting capacity are required to better protect the public and those that work in the library. I support these requirements.

CT. V November 28, 2021 at 2:00 pm

I’m tired of appeasing whiny people who won’t wear masks and get vaccinated because they think their freedom to be an idiot trumps everyone’s health and safety. New York City has basically made it impossible to not be vaccinated (can’t go in a restaurant or enter a lot of facilities) and guess what… 1.) 90%+ of residents got vaccinated 2.) people are able to do things pretty safely in an incredibly densely-populated area 3.) NYC hospitals are functioning pretty normally unlike less densely parts of the state where there are significantly fewer people vaccinated and now certain surgeries are being postponed.

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