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As Wallingford reports first COVID-19 cases, Town Hall gets counter windows

As Wallingford reports first COVID-19 cases, Town Hall gets counter windows

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WALLINGFORD — As town health officials confirmed the first two local cases of COVID-19, work continued Wednesday in Town Hall on new counter windows meant to harden the building.

The cases were confirmed Wednesday morning by Health Director Stephen Civitelli. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“Town leadership has been preparing for the inevitable rise in confirmed cases and continues to coordinate a response with our state and regional health partners to limit the spread of the virus,” Civitelli said in a statement.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday that the number of infections across the state jumped by more than 200 since Monday, to a total to 875 positive cases. Nineteen patients had died statewide as of Wednesday.

At least seven cases have been confirmed in Meriden, eight cases in Southington, three in Berlin and one in Plainville as of Wednesday. Cheshire health officials reported the town’s first case Wednesday evening with two more possible cases awaiting confirmation.

Civitelli did not provide information on the Wallingford cases, but reminded residents there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19 and no specific treatment.

Residents with questions about the coronavirus are encouraged to contact the health department at 203-294-2065.

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. is an outlier among municipal leaders in his decision to keep Town Hall open to the public and fully staffed.

“You can’t provide service to the public if you’re closing,” he said Wednesday. “People have to receive certain services they can only get here, so if you’re closing town hall, that to me means you’re not providing service any longer.”

Dickinson said that for now the plan is to keep the building open but restrict access to town offices by locking interior doors and encouraging people to make appointments.

“Other steps could be taken but we’re assessing and evaluating,” he said.

Public Works crews installed counter windows this week in the offices of the Town Assessor and Town Clerk on the first floor and Tax Collector on the second floor.

On Wednesday, crews were working in the land use offices on the ground floor, installing doors and building window frames on the wide counters.

The windows have speak-through intercoms and slots for passing documents, minimizing person-to-person contact during transactions.

Public Works Director Rob Baltramaitis said Wednesday the offices that received windows are in high traffic areas where town staff interact with the public the most.

The Tax Collector’s office was the first to request a barrier.

“Any office that has requested these measures has been provided for them,” he said. 

Since the work is being done in-house, the cost is estimated at less that $5,000, not including labor.

Baltramaitis said construction workers were offered masks and gloves, but it was unclear how many wore personal protective gear.

“I don’t sense that they had a sense that they were in danger,” Baltramaitis said.

Dickinson decided early in the current coronavirus crisis to keep Town Hall open but implemented some steps to stiffen processes at key points where public interaction is necessary.

Signs went up early last week on exterior doors urging sick visitors not to enter the building. The health department handed out face masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to Town Hall offices.

Some department heads, including Town Clerk Barbara Thompson, went further to protect building staff by locking the interior door to the office, thereby limiting the number of visitors allowed in at once.

Thompson said via email Wednesday that her staff “love the new glass wall” installed on the office counter.

“It's a great improvement,” she said. “We were the first office to lock our doors. Just too many people were coming in, and now we only allow one person at a time.”

She added that she was discussing the logistics of how to go to an appointment-only system Wednesday with Dickinson and her staff.

“I would encourage all residents to please try to do business with us through the mail, email or phone, maybe even using the tax office drop box,” she said.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this story.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

Shelby Jackson, town assessor, left, talks about the new counter window, right, installed in the Assessor Office at Wallingford Town Hall, Wed., Mar. 25, 2020. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
Updated: March 25, 2020
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