Looking at information from Italy, and feeling the pressure locally, Mayor Carlo DeMaria said this week he is glad that he and his administration made the quick decision to close down City operations and the Everett Public Schools on March 12 – long before others were resolved to the seriousness of the pandemic.
This week, while continuing to navigate the crisis in Everett and beyond, he said he believes it was a decision that has helped the City to cope with what has materialized in the weeks since then.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said “I had an Italian epidemiologist sending me graphs of the COVID-19 response in Italy compared to our response in America,” he said. “Our responses to it weren’t even as much as Italy and their response was obviously terrible. I saw that graph and we were on a phone call talking about it.
“At the time we knew from Italy how grave the situation was going to be and how we had to act quickly,” he added. “I was looking at how there were two weeks to April vacation and we had no snow days either. I also saw what was happening to my cousins in Italy. My wife Stacy was my sounding board and was with me on it. It was a decision we all made – my staff, my wife, and (Supt.) Priya (Tahiliani) and (Asst. Supt.) Charlie (Obremski). I realized that is a decision that affected a lot of people, but I said, ‘We have to do it.’”
Everett was the first school district to call classes off completely, and to do so through April 27. It was also the first municipality to pull the plug on City operations, including City Hall, the libraries and the Connolly Senior Center – to name but a few.
“One kid at school could be around another kid sneezing or coughing and that kid could take it home to an entire family and make them sick,” he said. “Flattening the curve is real. I knew people might still get sick, but I also thought if we could spread that time out, it would help so many people, including our health system. I kept hearing from that epidemiologist to flatten the curve. I kept hearing from family in Italy about more and more deaths. I really used that as my information. I made the call. You hope others have your back, but I figured if I went too far out on the limb, I could walk it back a little. It was more important to protect the safety and health of everyone.”
He said he was also considering that a lot of kids in Everett are taken care of by their grandparents, and he didn’t want those residents getting sick as a result of kids bringing it home from school.
DeMaria said he and his team took a lot of criticism initially from people who were shocked to see the schools close for so long before anyone else did so, and also for City operations coming to a halt that early in the response.
There were a lot of critics, but now DeMaria said he is glad his team made the call despite no one else joining right away.
“Now we know it’s getting worse and worse every day,” he said. “I hope everyone continues to treat it very, very seriously and understand it’s important to follow what is said. It’s not like everyone who gets it will die, but if our families all get it, there won’t be enough hospital services available. Lives are what’s important now and making sure everyone gets through this and stays healthy.”
•Mayor Calls on a Federal Delegation to Move Fast
Mayor DeMaria said he is happy to see the good work being done at the State House in Massachusetts, but called on the state’s Members of Congress and U.S. Senators to get a COVID-19 stimulus bill passed quickly.
“I think the state and our state delegation with Rep. Joe McGonagle and Sen. Sal DiDomenico are doing good things,” he said. “Hopefully our congressional delegation will put politics aside so there is a relief package to help our residents…We really need our U.S. Senators and Members of Congress to step up and get a bill passed and get money in the people’s pockets…They should be supporting it. This bill should only be aid for people, for small businesses, and for companies. It shouldn’t be about anything else than helping people now. That will relieve a lot of the people’s fears. Get money in their pockets and they will go food shopping, order out from restaurants and that will help them stay home from work.”
By press time, the U.S. Senate was still stalling on a bill that would provide more than $1 Trillion in stimulus aid for the country.
•Stay inside if you can
Mayor DeMaria also pushed for people to really stay inside, other than going out for safe exercise and for food shopping and medicine.
“People should only really go out to get the necessities like groceries,” he said. “When you do that, I know it’s hard not to say ‘hi’ or shake hands or hug someone you know, but you have to remember they could be asymptomatic or a carrier and that interaction could make people sick…You can still go for a walk and get exercise. You can’t have playdates with friends if you’re a young person. Young people can’t go down to the park and play basketball like they always did. We’re all in this together and we will be okay if we all think of each other.”
•City Hall Bills – Go Online
Mayor DeMaria also said for any bills at City Hall, there is flexibility.
He said calling 3-1-1 for guidance is the best thing to do, but also try paying online.
“I want everyone to try to go online first,” he said. “If you’re out of work and unable to pay, I wouldn’t worry about late fees. We’ll be working with the Department of Revenue and state and federal authorities to waive those types of fees.”
•School Lunches Still Ongoing Monday-Friday
The Everett Public Schools (EPS) announced an additional lunch distribution site this week, adding the Whittier School as a location with Everett High School. Lunches are served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday until further notice. The sites are located outside so that no one has to go inside to retrieve their meal. In most cases, it is a drive-thru situation.
Supt. Priya Tahiliani said EPS is working with other school districts this week to coordinate a distance learning plan that would help students to be able to have classes via computer with their teachers. That is still in the works, but she said they hope to have a plan presented to parents by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, paper homework packets are available daily at the lunch distribution for grades kindergarten through 8th grade. They are available online as well, and high school students already have all their lessons posted to the EPS website.
“We will continue to provide updates and to keep you informed about enrichment opportunities and access to meals,” said Tahiliani. “We hope that you and your family stay safe and healthy.”