MERIDEN — Mayor Kevin Scarpati joined the Record-Journal Thursday to provide updates on a slew of COVID-19 issues, including the use of drones to enforce social distancing at city parks, capacity at local hospitals, and a COVID-19 recovery center being opened by the state on Westfield Road.
The Record-Journal interviewed Scarpati live on Facebook as part of an ongoing series allowing public officials to provide updates and answer questions from the public.
Here are some excerpts from the 45-minute conversation, which can be watched on the Record-Journal’s Facebook page.
How is MidState Medical Center doing as far as capacity and
supply of PPE?
“From a PPE standpoint, they are OK at the moment. They have told us their biggest concern right now is disinfectant wipes and other disinfectant products running low over the course of the next two weeks. So that among all their PPE concerns is the greatest.”
Scarpati said the hospital has informed him that 22 of the hospital’s 27 ICU beds are currently filled. In the event capacity is reached, the hospital has developed a surge plan to open up more beds.
“They have sections of the hospital that can be transformed into (ICU beds),” he said.
The hospital has already opened up an additional nine beds from the 18 normally available.
Can you provide an update on the COVID-19 recovery center the state Department of Public Health is working to open at Westfield Rehab on Westfield Road?
Scarpati said the city has been given “very little information” from the state about the center, but added it’s his understanding that as of Thursday morning the center is not up and running. The city’s health director, Lea Crown, is working to get more information from state officials.
Based on Wallingford’s experience having a recovery center set up this week at a nursing home on Kondracki Lane, Scarpati said the state “isn’t necessarily consulting with public health officials and local officials on what is going to be done or used in that building.”
Not being able to get information and answers has been frustrating, Scarpati said.
“You have residents that are reaching out concerned for their safety, and what’s going to happen. I live in the area. How can we be guaranteed that … we’re going to be protected and that proper measures are going to be put in place for their well-being as well as those working in the facility?” he said. “.... We don’t necessarily have reason to believe it’s not being done, but we just want to be told that. Residents want to be told what is happening in their backyard, and when we can expect the first patients to arrive, and how long the facility might be open, and how many patients will be there at a given time, how many staff are going to be there on a regular basis. These are answers we’re trying to get.”
Police announced they plan to use a drone to enforce social distancing. How will that work and what will police do if they see residents not complying?
“I think a lot of individuals think we’re trying to spy on them while they’re in the park, that’s not the case, that’s not what we’re using the drone for. I think it’s pretty cool that we have this type of technology to be able to see a large area of our park with the use of one police officer and them not necessarily having to be exposed (to others).”
The drone, Scarpati said, is equipped with a PA system that will play a prerecorded message from police reminding residents not to be in groups of more than five people and to maintain six feet of distance between one another.
Scarpati hopes the drone and message will yield compliance, “but if that doesn’t occur then an officer will have to go out and verbally remind them to break the group up.”
Scarpati said the city plans to reassess after two weeks. If officials find people are keeping their distance at parks, the drone won’t be used.
Meriden has put a lot of effort and money into revitalizing downtown and attracting businesses in general over the years. Do you worry that progress will be lost when this is all over?
“We all realize this is going to be extremely difficult from an economic development standpoint — for businesses in general to get up and running, let alone our downtown, which has been struggling well before the COVID crisis. (The crisis is) only going to put up additional roadblocks and barriers because now we need to focus our efforts on business retention for the businesses we currently have.”
Scarpati said the city’s economic development director, Joe Feest, has been reaching out to businesses to assist in accessing financial relief.
“We need to make sure we’re helping and retaining those businesses that are here now,” he said.
Scarpati looks forward to working with the governor and the state Department of Economic and Community Development on “how we begin to think about bringing life back to some sense of normalcy and reopening our economy.”
Even when the economy is ready to reopen, Scarpati anticipates many will be reticent.
“It’s not going to be a light switch, as we’ve heard, where we just one day return back to work … I don’t know what to expect, and I don’t think people know what to expect, and that’s the fear...how comfortable (are) people going to be even if we allow them to do it, to go back into crowds, crowded settings like restaurants or ballparks … I don’t know what the future looks like. I know we’re going to do everything we can to help our businesses and our restaurants get through this as best as we possibly can.”