The Halifax Town Hall will re-open its doors beginning on Monday, June 22. The building will be open during its normal business hours: Monday-Friday 7am to 4pm, but as usual, not all offices are open during all these hours. Visitors should check the Town's web site: http://halifax-ma.org for when individual offices are open.
This decision was not made lightly.
The most recent guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health states that Town Halls should severely limit their occupancy. However, a municipality may determine that a municipal office can exceed the maximum occupancy level (which is far less than the normal maximum occupancy) if the municipality determines that it is in the interest of public health or safety considerations or where strict compliance may interfere with the continued delivery of a critical service, as determined by the municipality. Halifax has made that determination in regards to Town Hall [decisions about the opening of the Holmes Public Library and Pope's Tavern/Council on Aging will be made on a building-by-building basis].
If the Town decided whether to open Town Hall on the basis of whether it was a wise medical decision, the Town Hall would remain closed. The Town Hall has been closed for over three months and services continue to be provided. Yes, there are times when it is inconvenient for residents and visitors to find the Town Hall is closed. Someone wants something _NOW_ and feels aggrieved. But most of time, phone calls, e-mails, and the boxes to drop off bills and pick up documents have been sufficient.
A wise medical decision would be one that was made to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID. Opening Town Hall will have the opposite effect. Open Town Hall, increase the number of interactions that everyone has, increase the possibility of transmission.
So, if the Town Hall should stay closed based on looking at ways to prevent the transmission of COVID, why open it?
While there may be disagreement whether Town Hall is a "critical service", I believe that Town Hall plays a vital role in making Halifax a community of people, rather that simply a geographic designation where people happen to live. We enter municipal buildings to take actions that help create our community such as obtaining a marriage license, apply for a building permit, and yes, pay taxes. We gather in these buildings to meet together to make decisions that will benefit Halifax, the people who live here, and the businesses that make Halifax their home.
That's why we are balancing the challenges of preventing the transmission of COVID with the need to preserve Halifax as a community. That's why the Town Hall is being re-opened.
The challenges that we have faced during the last three months remain with us right now and will be present in the months to come.
When the Town Hall closed, no deaths in Massachusetts due to COVID had been reported. By the end of this week, there will be as many deaths in Massachusetts due to COVID as there are residents in Halifax. When the Town Hall closed, the number of reported cases was just over 100. The total number of cases reported in Massachusetts as of June 17 is now over 106,000.
Massachusetts has made tremendous progress in reducing the rate of transmission, of sickness, and of deaths. It's done so through radical changes in the economy and how Massachusetts residents live, work, shop, and play. Now, Massachusetts is re-opening and the challenge is how to keep Massachusetts open while continuing to lower the number of people being infected with COVID and not to end up finding ourselves in the same situation as other states that have an increase in the number of new cases reported each day.
Humans have two significant tools to fight COVID.
We've learned what prevents the transmission of COVID. We wash our hands more frequently and for longer periods of time. We wear face coverings. We keep our distance from each other. We have various tests to determine if someone has COVID and know what to do (quarantine and isolation) if the disease comes into our homes. And we've learned about contract tracing and how it can help create a barrier to further transmission.
Nurses, physicians, and researchers continue to gain knowledge as to what drugs and therapies work to reduce the length and severity of this disease. And while a vaccine won't be available tomorrow, there is the hope that there will be one in some indeterminate future.
Imagine alien invaders with technology that we've never seen before. But we don't need hardened battle-armor or super-weapons. We just need patience. Patience to keep doing the things we have been doing for the last three months. Patience to understand that COVID is not going away. Patience to understand that there are no miracle cures arriving in our mailboxes tomorrow, that COVID will not disappear with the start of summer, and that COVID will take advantage of our impatience.
There is a third tool. Maybe the most important one.
COVID does not care.
COVID does not care if you are agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Evangelical, Hindu, Jewish, Moslem, pagan, Protestant, or Wiccan.
COVID does not care where you were born, where your parents were born, where their parents were born, or anything else about your ancestry.
COVID does not care how old you are. You can be any age and have COVID.
COVID does not care if you are unregistered, unenrolled, Republican, Libertarian, Green, or Democrat.
COVID does not care if are an anarchist, a capitalist, a socialist, have any other political or economic philosophy, or none at all.
COVID cares only about COVID.
That's the third advantage that humans have. We care about each other. We run birthday parades, make masks, stock food pantries and deliver food to the people down the street, check in on our elders, nurse each other when we are sick, be good neighbors, and listen to each other. Most of us try to make good decisions in regard to COVID and the people around us: family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We change our habits and routines because of COVID with the hope that making those changes will help all of us.
We need you to continue to use all three of these tools against COVID.
That's why, before you visit Town Hall, please do the following:
1) Use the knowledge that we have gained. Don't come to Town Hall if you don't feel well. If you do enter the building, know that you are required to wear a face covering. Follow the social distancing protocols. If you need to make a payment, please use a check, money order, or credit card. If you decline to wear a face covering and/or social distance, know that the staff here is happy to work with you to provide the services you are requesting by e-mail, phone, on-line, or even by meeting you at the picnic table by the doors on the parking lot side of Town Hall.
2) Be patient. It continues to be a strange new world. You are interested in getting things done at Town Hall. The staff wants that to happen, too. It might be in a way that's a little bit different than the way things were done earlier this year. We'll cope together.
3) All this is being done because we care about each other. The hand washing, the face coverings, the social distancing? All of this helps reduce the transmission of COVID. There is no "us" or "them" in this. There are human beings and there is COVID. Let's be together.
If you have any questions, please give me a call at the Selectmen's Office at 781-294-1316. I'm happy to listen.
Charlie Seelig - Halifax Town Administrator