NORWALK, Conn. — Harsh critics of Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff were absent from Monday night’s Virtual Town Hall Meeting, where the two officials held forth along with Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik. The potential for an exchange of views on many pressing issues was unfulfilled, and thus the forum focused solely on the most pressing topic: COVID-19.
“There is no Republican or Democratic way to deal with this pandemic,” said Rilling. “Unfortunately, in Norwalk we have 1,832 cases, and much sadder is the fact that 104 people in our community have passed away from the virus.”
“So far the City has distributed over 150,000 masks and other protective equipment to police, fire, healthcare, the Housing Authority and Norwalk Hospital,” he continued. “We’re looking to get another supply very soon so that we can have a general distribution to seniors and other people who may need them.”
Norwalk restaurants may be opened for outdoor dining with restrictions on or about May 20. A questionnaire surveying restaurants’ needs and comments has been sent out, with replies expected by May 15.
Duff said “We’re hoping that we have flattened the curve and we’re on a downward trend. Very much in our minds is whether we have a second wave and how we deal with that. There is more testing happening here in the state. You don’t need a doctor’s note any longer, and the whole idea is to test about 30,000 people or so per week.”
“We have a slow and measured response to reopening the state,” he continued. “We have four different levels, the first starting on May 20 which will be opening up hair salons, and restaurants for outdoor dining only. It’ll open up offices, but people are still encouraged to work from home if they can, and it’ll also open research and outdoor cultural institutions like zoos, and some retail.”
Chief Kulhawik said “As far as the police department goes, we’ve been very fortunate in that we haven’t been affected greatly by the virus. It’s a testament to the officers using their personal protective equipment and also social distancing even though they’re sometimes in an environment where they really can’t.”
“Our calls for service are down pretty dramatically. We saw no increase in any calls generally speaking except for one area where people are not locking their cars and kids are out there at night and they’re entering unlocked cars and just rummaging through so we’ve seen a lot of those burglaries and basically it’s unlocked cars – an easy target.”
“As far as the enforcement of social distancing, again we’ve been very fortunate. The public has been very cooperative. We have officers checking parks and the beach and other areas. We’ve gotten some calls for some of the larger box stores for people not social distancing and we really are leaving that up to the individual stores to try to police that and enforce it themselves so that we don’t have to be called there. If we are, the officers will go there and do what they can to try to get people to abide by the governor’s orders.”
“Beginning Wednesday we’ll be meeting weekly with the various department heads – Parks and Rec, DPW etcetera. We want to be prepared and all be on the same page, so we’re starting to meet weekly to discuss how we’re going to work together, and make sure we all know what’s happening.”
“Our Annual Police Memorial Service obviously cannot be held in the traditional manner because we can’t bring all those people to the Police Department. But we have prepared a video which will be shown at 1 o’clock on Thursday in place of the Memorial Service.”
Kulhawik’s answers to public questions:
Question: How will the beach be monitored to make sure people follow the rules?
Kulhawik: “The lifeguards will have different duties this year and some of those duties may be to keep an eye out for social distancing. We’ll have police there as we always do, so it’ll be a team effort. We’re still working on a plan.”
Question: What is the best way to report an issue with crowds?
Kulhawik: “Just call the routine police number, 854-3000. We’ve had people reporting to us on social media and that is not the best way to do it because we may not see it in a timely manner. Similarly, email is not the best way.”
Rilling’s answers to public questions:
Question: Are there any plans to open an additional testing site in Norwalk?
Rilling: “We are hoping to open another at some point very soon.”
Question: Knowing that African Americans have a higher rate of death from the coronavirus, what efforts or strategies are in place to offer equal access to testing and treatment in the urban community?
Rilling: “We have partnered with the NAACP and the Norwalk Housing Authority to pass out personal protective equipment to every household in the Norwalk Housing Authority properties. We’re also doing what we call ‘heat mapping’ to see where our cases are coming from, to determine the largest pocket of where we may need some extra effort. Americares, the Day Street Healthcare Center, and the healthcare center on Connecticut Avenue will offer free evaluations for people who might not have health coverage or might not have the wherewithal to get a doctor’s appointment or get the testing, and all the testing will be for free. These individual organizations are working diligently to reach out to the communities that are most vulnerable.”
Question: Why aren’t the Yard Waste Site and Transfer Station open at the usual time? Opening more would help social distancing.
Rilling: “We have limited hours because we have limited staff. We’re alternating shifts so that we don’t have too many people out in public at any given time. If we were to have the virus spread among our DPW, police, and fire departments it could be catastrophic. Over the next couple of days, you’ll see that my reopening plan has the Yard Wast Site and Transfer Station open for extended hours, so we are planning on doing that.”
Question: Why can’t our beach be open as they are in other towns and cities?
Rilling: “The beach has never been closed. The beach has only been closed to vehicle traffic. And that was because as the weather was getting warmer and I would drive down there the parking lot would be totally crowded. One day, there were so many people that there were virtually no parking spaces left and the beach was extremely crowded. We are going to be opening our beach to vehicle traffic very soon and we’re working on limiting the number of vehicles that can be there at any one time and certainly limiting the number of any out of town vehicles that can be there as well.”
Question: Are non-Norwalk residents allowed at the beach? Too many New York plates last year.
Rilling: “Non-Norwalk residents are allowed at the beach. We are not allowed to restrict water access. We just implemented a new system of online passes. Charges are going to be higher for non-Norwalk residents, and when we open the beach, we are going to limit the number of parking spaces for vehicles that are not registered in Norwalk.”
Question: As a church can we meet for a Memorial Day picnic with under fifty people outdoors with social distancing?
Rilling: ”Probably not at this point…When you have a picnic, people tend to get closer to each other….We’re not issuing permits for City property at this time for any gatherings in excess of ten people, and you don’t need a permit for a group of ten. But we’re probably not going to be issuing permits for City property for these kinds of events anytime soon until we can get our arms around this.”
Question: Will Oak Hills Golf Course be open? If so, when?
Rilling: “Oak Hills had a ‘soft opening’ this past Saturday. There are very strict guidelines. Instead of seven or eight minutes in between tee times, there’s a 12-minute gap. No carts are allowed. There’s no walk-ins. Right now, I believe it’s open to only residents.”
Question: Do you feel travel softball and baseball teams will have a summer season?”
Rilling: “I doubt it. I really don’t think that’s going to happen…I imagine that most of the other communities aren’t going to have the teams either.”
Question: Are we worried about crowds during the Memorial Day weekend?
Rilling: “Yes, we are. We’re not sure to what degree the beach will be open on Memorial Day weekend. The sacrifices we’ve made up to this point have proven to be effective to a degree although we’re not at the end of the tunnel yet. All we can do is hope that people on Memorial Day weekend try to find ways to celebrate but also to do so responsibly.”
Duff’s answers to public questions:
Question: What are the next businesses to open?
Duff: “That’s being looked at right now by the Open Advisory Board. There’s not a specific answer yet because it depends on what happens during Phase One, which is May 20 until June 30, and what happens to the trend of hospitalizations, of positives testing, whether or not there’s enough PPE for the next phase of businesses, whether or not there’s adequate contact tracing. There’s a lot of factors that go into what particular business opens. These are not being done just by folks who may have a concern or an edge one way or another. These decisions are being made by epidemiologists, by a whole host of folks who are at the table. I would say that Phase Two will not come out until after June 30 .”
Question: (Asked by Common Council Member Tom Livingston) The State single-use bag fee which was suspended due to COVID-19 is scheduled to go back into effect this Friday, May 15. Do you know if that is still the case? As you know, Norwalk has its own plastic bag ordinance which was also suspended. As a result of this action a number of Norwalk stores are now using plastic bags. The reinstatement of the state’s fee at this time without reinstatement of Norwalk’s ordinance will likely result in a lot of confusion among stores and customers. At a minimum we need to give notice to all involved.
Duff: “I hadn’t heard about the May 15 date yet, but why don’t we talk offline, and I’ll get that information. If the governor does revoke the executive order on plastic bags, that would mean that Norwalk’s ordinance would go back into effect the way that it was.”
Rilling and Duff spoke in praise of frontline workers who are carrying the day: medical professionals, grocery and other retail employees and rest stop personnel. The mayor made special mention of nurses: “Let’s not forget that tomorrow May 12 is International Nurses Day. Please thank the nurses who are working hard, many of them working twelve-hour shifts, twelve hours on, twelve off. Sleeping at the hospital, not able to see their families, they’re really, really doing a wonderful, wonderful job, and we certainly appreciate them.”
“The vast majority of people are being very responsible and I appreciate that. It takes all of us” he said.
City news and community updates, including facility and service regulations and guidelines are at here.
A list of student food distribution locations, including the just-opened new sites in Colonial Village and East Norwalk is here.