NEWBURYPORT — In a special prerecorded edition of Local Pulse on Friday, internet radio host Joe DiBiase talked by phone with community leaders about COVID-19 safety measures and food security efforts.
Mayor Donna Holaday spoke with DiBiase on Friday morning prior to the confirmation of at least three positive COVID-19 cases in Newburyport. As the mayor, she said her focus is ensuring the safety of all residents. She has been in constant communication with neighboring communities, as well as officials across the state.
"I think we're all trying to move forward and figure out the best ways to govern at this time," she said of her conversations with other municipal leaders. Holaday called a state of emergency on March 19, which she said was recommended to her and other mayors during a conference call with state officials.
"It takes time to recover," Holaday said, discussing what a state of emergency means and how it will take time for resources to actually be provided.
"It also gives authority to direct programs, systems, whatever that needs to happen in the event of an emergency that bypasses some of the red tape that could eventually interfere with trying to make decisions that would keep people safe.
Holaday recalled winter 2015 when she called a state of emergency because storms caused serious structural damage, including the freezing of the sewer system.
"It was a tremendous crisis for the city and the state," she said. "It mobilized (the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency) and resources across the state, and brought supports in from other states to help us get through."
Holaday said people are used to winter storms and power outages, though.
With the coronavirus, she said, "We don't know what we're dealing with or for how long, how far, limited testing, no vaccines, restrictions in the normalcy of day-to-day life, restaurants closing, I mean it's just going to continue until we hit the peak of this."
DiBiase and Holaday also talked about China and how March 19 was the first day the country did not have a newly reported case for the first time in months. "If that's any kind of barometer, that's terrifying," Holaday said.
With much still unknown, she emphasized the need to stay inside as much as possible. If people go out, they need to keep a 6-foot distance from others, she said.
Holaday confirmed that a shelter in place has been discussed, but said it's unlikely the city would make that call without a state order first.
"We have no plans at this point," she said, "but I think we can anticipate seeing additional closures and potentially a request for people to stay indoors and then, maybe making it mandated." For the latest updates, go to www.cityofnewburyport.com.
In another segment, Lyndsey Haight, executive director of Our Neighbors' Table, said "Should things shut down, we are considered an essential service."
With strong partnerships locally and with the Greater Boston Food Bank, the organization will continue operating. Last week, the organization was allowing only four people in its Amesbury market at a time and this week, it's switching to curbside pickup completely.
Haight reminded listeners that the organization supports all residents from Amesbury, Boxford, Byfield, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Newbury, Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury, South Hampton and West Newbury. People can place orders by calling 978-388-1907 or by going online to www.ourneighborstable.org.
"I know a lot of people are afraid, they're nervous about coming out, some for very legitimate reasons," she said, adding that people may send someone else to pick up groceries for them. All people will be asked to remain in their vehicles throughout the pickup.
Haight said many people have reached out to volunteer, and the organization will be keeping a running list of those people.
"If you're committing to helping us here, then you're committing to following the public health guidelines and not be out socializing between your shifts," she said. "You have to make that commitment to us because we can't risk infecting our guests, and we can't risk infecting each other, in which case we will have to shut this operation down at least long enough to quarantine us."
Haight said she "appreciates" those who are honest when that commitment is not possible. "We're going to be taking measures here to make sure that we are minimizing the risk as much as we can."
She is aware that some people are anxious to help, but "truthfully, what we really need right now is a financial donation." As of Friday, Haight was working to implement new software and a delivery system.
"We have to create all new infrastructure to change all of our distribution. It's going to cost me $14,000 to put this software in place," she said, adding that employees will need overtime pay as well. While volunteers will be needed down the road, monetary contributions will allow the organization "flexibility to respond" as the situation changes.
"On any given day our market is open, we have 125 to 150 people come through to shop for their families," Haight said. "We expect that that number is going to go up significantly, and that's what we're here for."
Also on the show, Newburyport at large Councilor Bruce Vogel spoke about handling the coronavirus both as a business owner and as a member of the City Council. All City Council meetings will be completely virtual and held as necessary for the foreseeable future.
Local Pulse broadcasts live from 9 to 10 a.m. each Saturday. To listen live or download previous shows, go to www.NewburyportNews.com/LocalPulse.