When Covid-19 Comes to Your Town

The experience of Norwood, Massachusetts, where 11 town officials and employees are self-quarantined.

By Elizabeth Kellar | Mar 10, 2020 | BLOG POST

Crisis Management Tips from the Front Line

What would you do if you, your school superintendent, and many of your key staff had to be quarantined for two weeks?

That’s the situation that Tony Mazzucco, general manager, Norwood, Massachusetts, faced after learning that a group of 30 Norwood leaders had been at a private home with someone who later tested positive for Covid-19.  Here are some lessons from Norwood’s experience:

1. Follow the direction of your public health department. 

Out of an abundance of caution, all Norwood town employees who had attended the event have self-quarantined.  Because General Manager Tony Mazzucco had mild symptoms starting on March 5, he was tested for Covid 19.  On March 9, he learned that his test results were positive and he voluntarily released that information publicly.

2. Be open, upfront, and transparent. Monitor social media to quash rumors. 

Because of the positive test result, public health officials have reached out to all of Mazzucco’s close contacts (individuals who have been within six feet of him) to advise them to self-quarantine. The town posts daily updates on its website and Norwood Health Director Sigalle Reiss also posted a public service video on the site as well.

3. Make decisions based on facts and public health advice. 

Schools have remained open and town offices are open for normal business. A professional cleaning crew was hired to sanitize and disinfect Norwood Town Hall over the weekend.  A few meetings have been postponed so that Mazzucco and other key personnel can be present for them. 

As the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has grown, local governments need to be well prepared, update their business continuity plans and key contacts, and ensure that they understand how a public health emergency is handled in their state.  Does your local government have a plan for how it would keep critical services operating if a significant number of employees had to be quarantined? Can the local government support telework? Do your first responders, including water and sewer operators, have the personal protective equipment that may need?

In Kirkland, Washington, where firefighters had transported patients from the LifeCare Nursing home without knowing they had Covid-19, 25 firefighters and two police officers voluntarily quarantined themselves as a precaution.  None was symptomatic.  The city put out a statement to reassure residents that the city was still able to respond to all calls and that other firefighters were working overtime to ensure coverage. The Emergency Operations Center also has been activated during the outbreak.

FEMA has a template for business continuity plans related to a pandemic.  Also see ICMA's web page for Covid-19 updates and resources.


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