Faison to Council: ‘We Are Not in a Good Place’

The Winthrop Town Council met remotely on Aug. 18 for its regularly scheduled weekly meeting where it heard updates on COVID and its impact on the school reopening and the library.

COVID-19

Health Director Meredith Hurley reported 334 documented COVID cases in Winthrop, with 24 deceased, 19 in isolation and 291 recovered. The majority of new cases are in the age range of 21 to 40. According to Gov. Baker’s new COVID color chart of Mass. cities and towns, Winthrop is currently a Yellow Zone trending toward a Red Zone, which is the most critical.

Town Manager Austin Faison drove home the severity of Winthrop’s current situation, saying the governor called him personally to address the town’s climbing numbers.

“We are not in a good place,” he said. “We shouldn’t be looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. We are in the midst of it right now. This is very serious and it’s not going away.”

Faison reported that Gov. Baker is willing to provide resources to the town, such as increased testing and possibly opening a testing facility.

Caller Kurt Millar claimed the Winthrop Ferry was available for two-hour rentals for BYOB parties, which he said “sends a mixed message” to the community regarding social distancing.

Gov. Baker’s Color Chart of Mass. Towns

School Reopening

The School Committee met on Aug. 17, where it decided the district would abandon its previously agreed-upon hybrid model of in-person and remote learning in favor of a fully remote curriculum for the fall. The decision came after Gov. Baker released the new COVID chart of Mass. towns that put Winthrop in a zone requiring remote learning.

Council President Phil Boncore was at the meeting, which he called “long and intense.” He blamed the current situation on Winthrop residents not taking social distancing and mask-wearing seriously.

“We’ve not been great,” he said. “We need to distance. We need to stay apart. People’s lives depend on it. If socializing stops, kids can go back to school.”

Town Manager Faison added that if residents had taken safety protocols more seriously for the past several months that “we might have been ready to send our kids to school.”

Councilor Rob DeMarco expressed his disappointment in the committee’s decision, saying the hybrid model had a remote fallback plan that could have been implemented if needed. He alleged that the decision was made to benefit the administration more than the students.

Library

The library is currently offering pickup and dropoff service for physical media. In addition, it’s enhancing its collection of digital materials. The Council has requested more creative ways to expand library services.

Town Manager Faison reported that his office is currently working on virtual learning opportunities and getting Chromebooks and internet into the homes of children.

“[The library] can’t be a community center. It can’t be what it was,” he said. “We’re not close to being open to the public. We’re trying to keep people safe.”

He added that the town is currently engaging with the union to “make the community happy.”

Asst. Town Manager Anna Freedman stated that the plan is to bring back all of the furloughed library employees. She emphasized that their salaries cannot be moved to any other Town departments.

“Those funds will remain at the library,” she said.

Council asked that a library representative attend the next council meeting.

General Updates

• The Councilors unanimously voted to name the new fieldhouse at Miller Field after Anthony Fucillo, who coached at Winthrop High School for 35 years.

• Early voting will be available in the Harvey Hearing Room at Town Hall from Aug. 22 to 28.

• The contractor for the CBD redevelopment project has asked to extend work into December. The town is researching whether or not this will be possible. The CBD will feature parklets for increased seating.

• An outside engineer has completed a bike study of the town that has been passed to the DPW for review. The plans create a network of bike paths around town. In addition, a group wants to extend the Greenway into Winthrop.

• Resident Bill Rice claimed that there was a large number of complaints from residents about a lack of enforcement of illegally parked vehicles on Point Shirley.

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