The Hallowell City Council met virtually Monday night via Zoom to approve an emergency operations plan and appoint a Board of Health. Kennebec Journal image by Sam Shepherd

HALLOWELL — City officials extended an emergency declaration Monday, while the city’s fire chief and emergency management director announced that he is in self isolation — but shows no symptoms of the coronavirus.

On a Monday special virtual meeting of the City Council, the council approved an extension of a March 18 emergency declaration until “the City Manager is satisfied that the civil emergency no longer exists and terminates the emergency proclamation.” Another addition excluded “overnight accommodations at innkeepers licensed by the City” from businesses that must close.

Last week, Hallowell City Manager Nate Rudy declared a state of emergency, ordering restaurants and other business establishments to close from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Just before that declaration, Hallowell’s public buildings were closed to the public, except the City Hall, which is open only by appointment.

On Tuesday morning, the number of coronavirus cases in Maine rose to 118. Five of those cases are in Kennebec County.

The council also approved an emergency operations plan on Monday, which details how the city will move forward if emergency preparations are needed. Also Monday Jim Owens, the city’s fire chief and director of municipal emergency management, said he was in self-quarantine.

Owens said Monday night that he is self-isolating until March 28 after flying to Baltimore on March 14. He said he worked in his office at the Hallowell Fire Station while no one was there and has not been in contact with anyone other than his wife at home. Further, he said he disinfected surfaces at the station before leaving.

“I haven’t had any symptoms,” Owens said. “No medical issues at all.”

Rudy said Owens’s self-isolation “has no effect on the City’s emergency operation plan and he continues to work normal hours.”

In the event that Owens was unable to perform his duties, Assistant Fire Chief Roy Girard would step in. Girard was appointed as the deputy director of municipal emergency management in February.

The approved plan says that the Coos Lane fire station will be the city’s emergency operation center, if needed. Owens, as the director, will coordinate with county and state agencies, and nonprofits like the American Red Cross as needed to coordinate virus response in Hallowell.

Owens would be the point of contact for city department leads, while Rudy would serve as the spokesperson for the city. Fire and police departments will continue normal operations, but will likely be first-call responders for emergency response, while city Public Works staff will continue seasonal cleanup and normal business, unless activated for emergency response.

The plan can be updated by Owens and Rudy, and brought back to the City Council for approval.

Owens said planning for the future was complicated by the changing nature of the outbreak. He said last week that he ordered extra personal protective equipment, like gloves and masks, but could not say when they would arrive.

“The problem is that we can’t plan because don’t know what’s going to happen,” Owens said. “If you know there’s a tornado coming, … you can make a plan for there.

“You … make sure you have supplies and make sure … people limit contact,” he added. “Hallowell is as prepared as anyone else is.”

 

Board of Health appointed

Also Monday, the City Council approved the appointment of a three-member roster for the city’s new Board of Health. The members, who are all doctors, are Sydney Sewall, Scott Schiff-Slater and Annette Beyea. Rudy, the city’s health officer, will also sit on the board.

Sewall, a pediatrician, said the board will act as in an advisory role for city staff if the situation arises that they must make decisions without state guidance. He said he suspects restrictions on behavior to loosen over time, but some areas prone to larger gatherings may actually be placed under more restrictions.

Hallowell’s quantity of downtown bars and restaurants may force the board to be more “conservative” on any recommendations, Sewall said.

“It’s going to be difficult to predict,” he said, adding that identifying cases, quarantining and getting sufficient data are all keys to controlling the outbreak.

The city does not have an ordinance regarding the appointment of a health board, but state statute allows any municipality to create “a board of health consisting of 3 members besides the local health officer, one of whom shall be a physician if available in the community, and one a woman.”

Beyea and Schiff-Slater were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.


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