Veronica Kell, the newest member of the Townsend Board of Selectmen
Veronica Kell, the newest member of the Townsend Board of Selectmen

TOWNSEND — The Board of Selectmen reiterated last week its policy regarding Town Hall access in response to a query from Board of Health Chairman Christopher Nocella.

Given that town offices were closed to the public when the town’s COVID-19 case count went up and that meetings are not being held at Town Hall during the pandemic, Nocella asked why citizens are being allowed into the building now and whether reports of people congregating in the halls are true.

Town Administrator James Kreidler, whose office is on the second floor, said he’ s heard concerns about people “milling around,” but he hasn’t seen it.

Kreidler said the building is locked during business hours and that an intercom system — purchased with COVID-19 funds — controls foot traffic and ensures social distancing.

“We’ve tried to strike a balance” between health and safety concerns and public access, he told Nocella.

Using the new setup, which includes a video camera, visitors must state their business at the door and can only come in when circumstances allow it. A citizen coming in to pay a tax bill, for example. “If the office you want is below the required count, you get buzzed in,” Kreidler said. That is, based on person-per-square-foot restrictions (25% of floor space) set by the state.

Selectman Veronica Kell, who serves as liaison to the health board, backed up Kreidler’s take on the intercom system’s efficacy during the pandemic. The board has had “socially distanced” meetings at Town Hall in the interim and as elected officials, members go in and out, she said, to sign warrants, for example.

“I’ve seen people buzzed in, but no milling around,” she said.

But Kell said she’d still had concerns and had wondered if added precautions might be considered, such as COVID-19 screening — temperature checks, standard questions — and escorting visitors in and out of the building. However, she also acknowledged downsides to those measures, which Kreidler pointed out would be time consuming for town hall employees.

In other pandemic-related business later in the meeting, the selectmen heard an update from Fire Chief Mark Boynton on the progress of in-house COVID-19 testing for public safety personnel.

EMTs and paramedics handle pickups and drop-offs at the fire station, with 24-hour results, he said. The setup bypasses the need to access a “mass test site” elsewhere, he said, perhaps with long waits. The cost to the town: $60 per person, with no other fees.

Kell asked if the testing could be made available to town employees and elected officials as well as public safety personnel. Basically, the answer was no, in part due to privacy issues imposed by HIPPA laws, Boynton said. At this time, the testing is only for public safety departments, he said.

Asked about COVID-19 vaccinations, Boynton had good news to report.

“All but one of our personnel has been vaccinated,” he said.