COVID-19 CRISIS

As West quarantine ends, Fung makes new call for compliance

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The two-week self-quarantine order for members of the Cranston High School West community expired on March 27 – and Mayor Allan Fung had a new message for those who might have seen the occasion as a reason to celebrate in group settings.

“I got wind that some corona parties were being planned. Think again,” the mayor said in a video posted to his social media accounts that afternoon.

Following the March 13 announcement that a Cranston West student had tested positive for COVID-19 and the roughly 1,700 members of the school community would be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days, reports began to surface of some students and others ignoring the request.

Fung, in a video that drew widespread attention, sternly called on members of the Cranston West community to observe the quarantine and stay at home.

The latest video continued that tone and message, with some colorful new twists. He began by thanking the “vast majority of you” for being compliant.

“You were part of the solution here in Cranston, and I’m really proud of you. So I can see where you think you’re off the hook now,” he said. “Well let me the bearer of some bad news. This thing still isn’t over. We’re doing better than New York City and other places which have scenes fresh out of a horror movie, but as of last night, in Cranston we still had 18 cases confirmed of COVID-19. It’s not in another city or some far away land, it might be on your own street.”

He added: “And let me channel my inner Italian mayor to show I serious I am.” A news clip of an official in Italy addressing his constituents follows, with the caption: “I hear some want to host a party … We’ll send armed police, and we’ll be sending them with flamethrowers.”

Fung on March 27 issued a supplementary emergency declaration ordering the closure of all recreation fields and facilities – including walking tracks, for which leniency had previously been provided. The order provides for violators to face fines of up to $25 or community service. Locked chains and signs have since been visible at Doric Park and other recreational locations around the city.

In an email, the mayor said the new order was issued in light of the Cranston West quarantine’s expiration and in anticipation of mild weather over the weekend.

“I did not want to do this but it is getting ridiculous the amount of time we are spending to chase people off our facilities,” he wrote in the email.

The text of his order expands on that point, reading: “I, along with my various staff members as well as the Cranston Police Department special details assigned to monitor compliance with my prior Executive Orders and the mandates from Governor Raimondo have witnessed individuals in Cranston and from other communities continuing to violate the strong community mitigation strategies and thereby threatening to overwhelm our City’s ability to effectively protect the health of our residents.”

In the video to the Cranston West community, Fung said: “And you think you’re heading to the fields to play ball? Unfortunately, I’ve spent the better part of this week chasing groups off of them. Today, there are more chains and locks on entrances, and I’ll have the police constantly patrolling the areas this weekend. I’ve also had to shut down the walking tracks. I know in the middle of this pandemic you don’t think I have anything else to do, but this nonsense is turning me into this guy.”

Another news clip of an Italian official follows, with the caption: “I’m going to address you all. Where the [expletive] are you all going?”

During the March 27 daily COVID-19 briefing with Gov. Gina Raimondo, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott issued her own message to the Cranston West community in light of the quarantine period's end.

“While the official quarantine ... is being lifted, I am asking, the governor’s asking, we’re all asking that you not get together and socialize with friends,” she said. “It’s important for each of us to hold each other accountable. The same goes for teachers, for parents and staff. Family, parents and everyone else in Cranston, we need you to help us get the word out. We need you to make sure this message sinks in with the teenagers in your life as well as those around them.”

New emergency orders

Cranston remains under a declaration of emergency, and Fung has issued multiple supplementary orders.

The latest, issued Sunday, codifies locally a number of emergency measures Raimondo has taken on the state level.

Fung’s latest order echoes the governor’s “stay-at-home” order for the state, requiring Cranston residents to “stay at home unless traveling to work, traveling for medical treatment or obtaining necessities (food, medicine, gas, etc.).”

“While Governor Raimondo has allowed Rhode Island residents to go outside for exercise and fresh air, Cranston public recreation facilities shall still remain closed to the public,” the order reads. “Cranston residents may go outside consistent with the Governor’s mandates on our public roadways so long as they can do so in a safe manner and practice social distancing.”

Fung’s order also bars any gathering of more than five people and requires all non-critical retail businesses to close. Dine-in service remains prohibited at bars and restaurants, while take-out, pickup and drive-thru service is allowed.

The mayor’s order also requires any out-of-state visitor who is remaining in Cranston “for a period of time” to self-quarantine for 14 days. Local child care facilities have also been closed through April 4 in keeping with Raimondo’s statewide order.

As of Monday night, the latest data from the Rhode Island Department showed 35 COVID-19 cases confirmed for Cranston, the second most in the state. Providence continued to have by far the most cases of any community, with 71. Pawtucket had the third most cases with 32.

The number of cases has also grown in other neighboring communities. Monday’s data showed 17 cases in Warwick, eight cases in Johnston and eight cases in West Warwick. Coventry had six cases and Scituate had less than five.

City Council to hold virtual meeting

After canceling its March meeting and April’s committee meetings, the Cranston City Council will hold its regular monthly April meeting virtually.

City Council President Michael Farina made the announcement through a Facebook post on Monday. A previous posting had indicated the April 27 regular meeting would be canceled.

“The monthly March City Council meeting scheduled last week was canceled due to the Covid crisis. The April committee meetings were also canceled because without the March meeting no New Business was sent to committees,” Farina wrote in his post. “The monthly April council meeting will go on as planned, will be virtual and we will review the business from March. We will be on a normal schedule in May and conduct business virtually if necessary. Please see CranstonRI.com for more information on schedules and further updates.”

Among the business set to be considered during the virtual meeting is a resolution sponsored by Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos, Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley and Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan that would waive late fees, interest and penalties for late tax and sewer fee payments for Cranston residents who have “demonstrated economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Fung previously announced the local tax deadline for the fourth quarter has been extended from April 15 to May 15. The resolution would make the waivers effective through the end of the year.

“No family or business in Cranston suffering from economic hardship caused by the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic should face penalties and fees if they are late on their City taxes or bills,” Donegan wrote in a Monday tweet. “We are going to take care of all that!”

Former Citizens Bank facility eyed by state

According to multiple sources with knowledge of the state’s process, the former Citizens Bank facility on Sockanosset Cross Road has been explored for use as an expanded treatment site in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Other potential sites include the Rhode Island Convention Center.

In an email Monday, Rhode Island Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said: “The state is exploring a range of options at this point. No final determinations have been made.”

In response to a question during her daily briefing on Tuesday, Gov. Gina Raimondo said multiple sites are under consideration.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has been on the ground working around the clock for over a week … Memorial Hospital would be incredibly expensive to reopen. Are we looking at it? Yes. Are we looking at another 15 to 20 alternatives? Yes,” she said.

She added: “We are looking at the Convention Center, we are looking at everything. You can assume every hotel, abandoned building, former hospital, convention center, large hall, formerly occupied business building – we have engineers, architects and the Army Corps all over it trying to make a statewide plan to meet the needs of COVID.”

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