By DANIEL KITTREDGE Cranston has quickly found itself at the center of the state's novel coronavirus crisis. Mayor Allan Fung on Saturday declared a state emergency for the city. A host of municipal facilities - including the Cranston Senior Enrichment
Cranston has quickly found itself at the center of the state’s novel coronavirus crisis.
Mayor Allan Fung on Saturday declared a state emergency for the city. A host of municipal facilities – including the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center and the Cranston Public Library’s various branches – have been closed, and public meetings such as the City Council’s regularly monthly gathering on March 23 have been canceled.
“Everything’s changing day by day. It’s scary times, challenging times … We’re doing the best we can to be a source of information to our local businesses, local residents,” the mayor said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, on the heels of the March 13 announcement that a student at Cranston High School West community has tested positive for COVID-19, the school’s students, faculty and staff – roughly 1,700 people in all – have been asked to self-quarantine.
It appears that directive, at least initially, was not universally followed.
On social media especially, anecdotal reports emerged of students and others defying the pleas from public health officials to stay at home to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
Cranston Public Schools Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse wrote in a message to the school community regarding the quarantine: “I know it is inconvenient and difficult to do this, but it is only the first full day and people are out. We know students are at the mall and adults are out doing their regular Saturday errands. This is not helpful, and potentially dangerous.”
The situation led the mayor on Saturday to deliver a stern message in a video that has since been widely viewed and shared.
“Over the past 24 hours I’ve been hearing that not everyone at Cranston West is taking the Department of Health quarantine seriously, and that needs to stop now,” he said. “This is your first global pandemic to hit Cranston? Well guess what? It’s mine, too. So I know it can seem unreal that this is happening, but it is. This crazy new virus appears to be very contagious. If you have it, it could hop off of you and onto your grandparents or friends with a weakened immune system, and they could be in a lot of health trouble. And it’s my job to stop that as much as humanely possible. That’s why I need you to go home and stay home for the remaining 30 days.”
He added: “And parents, you can blame it all on me. But I need everyone to knock it off with media conspiracy theories and the like. None of us are joking here. Do I normally come down hard on you for no reason? Nope. I’ve known most of your since you were in kindergarten, and we’ve gotten through a lot of tough times together. But now I need your help, as future leaders of our city, to keep the entire city safe from COVID-19.”
Cranston West Principal Thomas Barbieri subsequently issued his own message to the school community on social media and elsewhere.
“I realize that these are trying times and profoundly affect us all. But I assure you, as your principal, that the mutual support of the entire Falcon community will sustain us and give us the resolve to see this crisis through to the end,” it reads. “It is imperative that all of us do our part to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all members of our community. Therefore, I implore you, as a member of the Falcon family, to observe and abide by the quarantine for students, faculty and staff, restrictions issued by the Rhode Island Department of Health.”
Fung on Tuesday morning said while there have been scattered sightings of Cranston West community members out and about, he believes most took the calls from he and others seriously.
“The video is working,” he said, adding that he is planning a follow-up message for later in the week. Positive test at West; schools closed
The COVID-19 case at Cranston West was among nine new cases announced March 13. The news came as Gov. Gina Raimondo, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and other state leaders announced that April vacation would be moved up to the week of March 16-20, closing schools across the state for at least a week.
In a message to members of the school community, Cranston Public Schools – in coordination with the Department of Health – advised students, faculty and staff at Cranston West to self-quarantine at home for the next 14 days “under an abundance of caution.”
“Students, faculty and staff under the quarantine should not leave their homes for the duration of the 14 day quarantine,” the message reads. “Those affected by the quarantine should monitor themselves if they begin to exhibit the following symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. Parents, siblings and other family members may leave their homes at their discretion, but should not admit visitors for any reason. Parents, siblings and other family members that begin to exhibit the aforementioned symptoms should also quarantine themselves for 14 days.”
As of Tuesday, the roughly 1,700 Cranston West community members represented a slight majority of those under self-quarantine across the state.
Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan’s mother, Nancy Vitulli, is a drama teacher at Cranston West and is current among those under self-quarantine without symptoms.
“It certainly hits home,” he said. “Everyone knows someone. This is such a tight-knit community.”
Prior to the Cranston West case and the school closure announcement on March 13, Cranston Public Schools – like all other districts throughout the state – had been working at the directive of the Rhode Island Department of Education to develop a plan for school closures.
On Monday, the district began to circulate an “in-home technology” survey on social media. The questionnaire asks parents and guardians to provide information regarding the number of students in their household; what schools their children attend; and what resources are available in the home, such as internet access, smartphones, laptops and tablets. Gov. Gina Raimondo on Tuesday said she anticipating making an announcement on K-12 education on Wednesday.
Additionally, six schools in Cranston are serving as locations for families to pick up “grab and go” meals for children while schools are closed. The meals are available for anyone under the age of 18, and no identification is required. Pickup hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Both a breakfast and lunch will be provided at pickup.
The pickup locations include George J. Peters Elementary School, Hugh B. Bain Middle School, Gladstone Elementary School, Cranston High School East, Park View Middle School and Edgewood Highland Elementary School. State of emergency
Fung’s emergency declaration came following similar measures in Providence and Warwick. State leaders are urging municipalities in the state to take the same step as a means of making additional tools available to combat the spread of COVID-19 locally.
As of Tuesday morning, the mayor said he has received no notification from the Department of Health regarding additional local cases of COVID-19. He said the declaration of emergency – which will expire after seven days without approval for an extension from the City Council – will be reevaluated as the week continues.
“We’re getting a lot of questions thrown our way and we’re trying to address them as best as possible,” he said.
City Hall remains “open but on a limited capacity,” Fung said. “People are working hard.”
Specifically, a press release from the mayor’s office reads: “City Hall will remain open however all City departments within City Hall which includes Personnel, Canvassing, Tax Assessing, Finance, Planning, Tax Collection, Economic Development, and the City Clerk will be staffed by limited personnel only. This means there will be partial staffing and all are asked to only come in person if you must. Tax payments can be made on line (see our website for additional information) or placed in the drop box at City Hall. Inspections, Engineering, and Community Development located at the Hamilton building will be closed for the week, but accessible by phone.”
The Cranston Senior Enrichment Center, while closed to the public, continues to act as a meal preparation site for locations across the state. It has recently added East Bay Community Action to its roster of meal recipients, the mayor said.
The Cranston Veterans Memorial Ice Rink, Municipal Court and Cranston Animal Shelter have been closed to the public, and all recreational programs have been canceled for the time being. VIN checks have also been temporarily suspended at the Building Maintenance Facility.
In addition to the March 23 City Council meetings, scheduled gatherings of the Board of Contracts and Purchasing and the Charter Review Commission were canceled this week.
Regular updates are being provided on the city’s website, cranstonri.com, and through City Hall’s various social media accounts.