Department heads give updates on impact of COVID-19
At Tuesday’s quarterly department head meeting in Darien, David Knauf, director of health, gave an extensive report of the status of the town in terms of the current pandemic.
At the meeting, which was held prior to the Board of Selectmen meeting, the heads of each of the town departments and services addressed the impact their service provides in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as any projections they foresee will be a need going forward.
Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson was the only person who physically attended the meeting. All other department heads participated virtually.
Knauf said his department started in February with tracking returning travelers from China, insuring quarantining, and making daily phone calls with several people who had returned.
“That was the pre-curser to the outbreak here in the United States,” he said.
Darien was one of the first communities in the area to establish a drive-through clinic to meet the needs of those who need and want to be tested for the coronavirus.
“It’s an ongoing project,” Knauf said. “We offer that two days a week.”
The department is tracking COVID-19 positive cases, and has gone back and looked through all of the past cases and interviewed most everyone. They have found “a couple of commonalities or discrepancies,” he said. “There’s no average in terms of how long people are sick. It ranges from a couple of days to weeks.”
Most people in most homes that had one person sick, had multiple people within the homes that are sick, according to Knauf.
“From the 150 reported cases, there were many more positive cases because people just didn’t get tested after one person in the home was sick,” he added.
He said it’s very difficult to do contact tracking, especially during the initial phases of this.
“People don’t always remember who they were in contact with,” he said. “Secondarily, sometimes they just don’t want to tell on one another.”
The department also conducts daily tracks and interviews with the assisted living facilities, checking on the health of staff and residents.
“That’s an ongoing project and a very big concern because this disease focuses on the elderly,” Knauf said. “Our findings have been that younger people tend to recover faster than older people and may have nominal symptoms, if any.”
He said the department is in “pretty good shape with our inspection schedule for our food service facilities.”
The department is conducting its inspections over the phone.
“We have only not been doing inspections for a month and prior to this outbreak, we were very much up to date with all our mandated inspections,” he added.
Since then, for the facilities that remain open, almost every day the department gets reports regarding employee health, absenteeism, and fever.
“We have a spreadsheet where we’re keeping track of the facilities and what they’re reporting to us,” Knauf said. “We also go over the standard food handler processes, so gloves and social distancing within the facility, and temperature requirements.”
The department is also thinking about how the town is going about the reopening and the expansion of services for the facilities, and how they’re going to revisit conductions of facilities at some point.
“We’re providing regular notices to our food service facilities about any changes and reports from the CDC that pertain to masks,” he said.
“We have already given out 150 masks to our local operating food service facilities,” he said.
In addition, the department sent a notice to all its public pools, condominiums and clubs saying that it’s not going to be issuing permits.
“The same thing for cosmetology salons,” he said. “We will be revisiting that as we reassess the reopening of Connecticut.”
Regarding the new policies at nursing homes, they are not letting external people in.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said the town has three assisted living homes in Darien.
“Two of our deaths were from residents of our assisted living communities,” she said.
The number of different staff people that come through those facilities are being monitored.
“You can be asymptomatic and still be contagious,” Knauf said. “This really creates a huge problem in trying to prevent the spread of this disease.”
Joe Larcheveque, executive director of Darien EMS-Post 53, said Post 53 is seeing several COVID-19 suspicious calls. They are using personal protective equipment on all of their responders.
“We are continuing to staff all of our ambulances and cover our calls,” he said. “We have had some reduction in staff, both on the adult and the student side, but not enough to impact our operations.”
Post 53 responds to a majority of its calls between three and seven minutes, according to Larcheveque.
“We have adequate supplies on hand,” he added. “We have so much that’s now on back order.”
Marc P. McEwan, the deputy fire marshal director of emergency management, said the challenge is to have the personal protective equipment stockpiled and being able to refresh it periodically.
Almost everything when it comes to personal protection has a lifespan, he added.
“It breaks down naturally,” he said. “A lot of what we had here locally was discarded and never replenished.”
Darien’s Fire Marshal Bob Buch said the biggest challenge is going to be getting back to doing routine inspections.
Construction projects continue to move along, he said. The largest project at the present time is the senior housing development at 719 Boston Post Road — The Royle.
“Things are starting to get close to finishing up,” he said, in regard to the project.
Town Finance Director Jennifer Charneski said town budget deliberations begin May 5 and run through May 14. The Board of Finance is prepared to have a preliminary budget vote on May 14. They will publish in the newspaper the last week in May. There will be a final budget vote on June 10.
Ali Ramsteck, Director of Darien Human Services, said the department has been “inundated” with requests from residents for assistance.
“We are making sure that their essential needs are met, that everyone has adequate amounts of food, that their utilities are working, and that their rent is being paid,” Ramsteck said.
The cafeteria employees are back at work preparing grab and go lunches for Darien school children.
“It’s gone very smoothly,” Ramsteck said. “Any Darien student is able to pick up a bagged lunch Monday through Friday between 11-1 at Middlesex Middle School.”
The family stays in their car and and opens their trunk. A food service worker puts the bags in their trunk. They don’t have to pre-order and it’s available to any Darien student, not just those on free or reduced lunch.
In addition, the department has been giving out grocery gift cards to all the children on free and reduced lunch.
The Darien Times will publish additional town department updates in a follow-up story.