Shirley hits the ‘red zone,’ shuts down town offices

Shirley hits the ‘red zone,’ shuts down town offices
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SHIRLEY – When the coronavirus pandemic hit in late March, and the state shuttered just about everything, per order of Gov. Charlie Baker, the town followed suit, along with schools and businesses.

But as restrictions eased, the schools re-opened under a new hybrid plan with a remote option and town offices and other public buildings again opened their doors, with new rules in place.

Now, the town offices are closed again to the public, effective Wednesday, Nov. 18.

The Senior Center, which had been offering limited in-person activities, will also be closed, although programs such as Meals on Wheels and MART bus rides will continue.

With 34 confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported as of Tuesday morning, Nov. 17, per the state public health department , or DPH, Shirley is now considered a “red zone” area under state government guidelines, prompting town officials to respond accordingly.

That’s a significant spike. Just one week ago, last Monday, the reported number was 14, according to Town Administrator Mike McGovern.

McGovern announced the current closure at the selectmen’s meeting Monday night. The message was also posted on the town website, Face Book page and sent out in e-mail alerts.

Basically, it states that although staff will still be working during business hours, the Town Offices building will be closed to the public and that residents or others who have business to conduct with the town clerk, tax collector or other town office may do so by phone, e-mail or in-person by appointment.

Town boards and committees – most of which offer a remote public participation option via Zoom – can still meet in person in the town offices building, McGovern said, with no more than 10 people allowed in the room at a time, including board members.

Asked what happens if attendance tops that total – hot button issues that tend to draw a crowd, for example – McGovern explained in a later e-mail that if that happens, or is expected to, space can be set aside for the overflow in a separate room.

The Zoning Board may be considering a permit application, for example, with 10 people in the room. In that case, it apparently becomes a revolving door situation. Those who want to speak before the board, such as applicants, presenters or abutters, will be ushered in when the matter comes up, McGovern said, while others may be asked to wait in the designated area.

It happened before, he said, and arrangements were made for overflow, but as it turned out, the ZBA made do without, as presenters made their case via Zoom.

Asked if Covid-19 cases at the state prison – MCI Shirley – contributed to the town’s total count, McGovern said the 34 people who had reportedly tested positive this week were all Shirley residents.

Located near the outskirts of town and Route 2, MCI’s inmate population is rolled into the town’s total census count, but not the Covid-19 report, apparently. MCI had 150 reported cases as of Tuesday, Nov. 16 at noon. That number includes all three facilities, minimum, medium and maximum security.

Asked if contact tracing was done, relative to the positive cases in town, McGovern said he had no additional information. However, contact tracing is standard protocol, according to DPH and the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, which Shirley and 17 other area communities belong to.

About two weeks ago, Lura A. White Elementary School parents were notified by the principal that someone in the school had tested positive for Covid-19 and would quarantine for the required 14-days. The notice stated “no close contacts” but didn’t say if the individual was a student or a staff member.