State and town create employee housing protocols

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 6:00pm
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With Block Island’s communal employee housing having caught the eye of the state, members of the Town Council, as well as Dr. Tom Warcup, have been partnering with mainland officials on how best to safely house the workers and quarantine anybody who tests positive for the coronavirus.

According to the guidelines created during these discussions, employees will be limited to two per room, with only two people allowed in a restroom at any given time.

The Town Council met via telecommunication on Wednesday, June 3 for the next steps and guidelines as Rhode Island and Block Island enter Phase 2 in reopening. Hotels and restaurants are beginning to open, with restaurants now offering a combination of takeout and restricted outdoor dining.

Second Warden André Boudreau summarized the new rules from the state relating to the congregate living situations on the island.

“The guidance has key issues addressed: two persons maximum per bedroom and bathroom, disinfection of bathrooms between uses, provisions of adequate cleaning and sanitizing supplies, and adhering to C.D.C. guidelines,” said Boudreau, adding the rest of the guidelines and rules fall under C.D.C. recommendations.

Interim Town Manager Jim Kern added that the plan will be shared with the B.I. Medical Center and Dr. Warcup, and be made “available to the public in the next couple of days.” Business owners who provide congregate housing for their employees have to present a plan to be reviewed by Dr. Warcup, in case of a COVID positive tested employee, by June 6

Councilor Martha Ball asked if these guidelines applied to hotels. They do not.

Dr. Warcup said communal living guidance “wasn’t intended for family dwelling, but for any employee or employer type of process.”

Landing area guide for medical transport helicopters

The council was in receipt of a letter from the B.I. Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department that made a recommendation for using the Block Island State Airport for lifeline helicopter landings. Dr. Warcup also recommended using the airport for medical transport.

Lacoste read the following from the letter: “Whenever practical that the Block Island State Airport would be used for airborne patient transports; landing area is restricted to daytime use; winds should be less than 25 knots as measured by the B.I. State Airport; prior to use the landing. Lacoste said the tarmac had to be “inspected to identify any safety issues, with particular attention be given to obstructions and debris; medical helicopters shall avoid overflight of the Block Island School; notifications shall be made as soon as possible to the B.I. Volunteer Fire and Rescue department of any inbound medical transport, in no case should the notification be less than 30 minutes; any medical helicopter company wishing to operate to and from the B.I. Medical Center shall have a letter of agreement on file with the Medical Center and a copy provided for Fire and Rescue; an annual review of all medical helicopter operations shall be held to insure public safety issues are addressed. Those are suggestions that are made and to be suggested to be made immediately,” read Lacoste.

“I had a conversation with (Rescue Squad Capt.) Tracy (Fredericks) and (Fire Department Chief) Kirk (Littlefield), and I am in complete support of their position [to use the airport]. We had a fair amount of discussion,” said Dr. Warcup. He noted the airport would be the safest decision for the patients and the rescue teams from being injured or harmed.

Lacoste said he felt the recommendations should take effect “immediately, and the first one would echo what the doctor said: the airport be used for transports… The rescue helicopters can land wherever they think they can land. They take on the responsibility of whatever damage could occur. I think if we were to adopt the protocols that were suggested then it would make the situation a lot safer overall,” said Lacoste.

“I think we need to listen to the experts here, and I don’t agree in using the area behind the Medical Center as the go to site that has been used for years… I think Dr. Warcup’s plan is a good one, and I think we should move forward with it,” said Councilor Chris Willi.

Hunting in the B.I. National Wildlife Refuge

Lacoste said a letter had also been received by the council from the three conservancy-based organizations on the island: The Block Island Conservancy, The Block Island Land Trust, and The Nature Conservancy, in response to the proposed hunting and fishing plan presented by U.S. Fish and Wildlife for the B.I. National Wildlife Refuge.

“We received a notice extending the public review period for the draft hunting and fishing plan until June 8, 2020. The service is proposing to expand opportunities for deer hunting and open migratory bird hunting in the refuge, and other hunting areas within the state of Rhode Island,” said Lacoste.

Councilor Sven Risom requested Kern write a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife on behalf of the council’s mutual comments: concerns on enforcement; concerns on use of cross bows in limited spaces; hunters to register at the police station; appropriate setbacks on all properties; crossing town land to the North Point; the Wash Pond in close proximity to the transfer station; to ensure that they are following all town dates and timing within the town ordinances for hunting, and that there is no weekend hunting; and state regulations as submitted from the town to the state.

Kern agreed to write out a letter, and to have the council review the document before sending it to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

The Town Council will be meeting on Monday, June 8 for a budget session, and on Wednesday, June 10 to discuss council recommendations.