10 things to know from Norwalk’s COVID-19 town hall
NORWALK — As COVID-19 continues spreading throughout Norwalk, the community is looking for answers.
On Thursday night, they got some through a town hall hosted in partnership with the Norwalk NAACP, Norwalk Public Schools and the city. Residents were able to submit questions to officials from city hall, schools and the Health Department.
Over 500 people tuned into the virtual event, which was moderated by the NAACP and Common Council member Greg Burnett. Here are some key takeaways:
The city is monitoring the coronavirus situation to determine if closures are needed.
The state reverted back to reopening Phase 2.1, which limits business capacity, but it’s up to the city to close businesses and schools. Mayor Harry Rilling said the city is monitoring the situation and trying to determine what’s causing the increase in cases. If they’re traced back to businesses, closures may be necessary.
‘It’s very challenging because many of the businesses, when we first went into ... a lockdown, they struggled,” he said. “It’s a big challenge to close businesses now. We look at what the state is going.”
More testing is coming to Norwalk
Many waited in line for hours for a drive-thru COVID-19 test at Veteran’s Park. The National Guard arrived earlier this week to assist the Community Health Center who offers the testing, but the need it still great.
Chief of Community Services Lamond Daniels said the city is working to identify additional partners and locations.
“We’re working diligently every day to identify locations, partners and key places where we can set up the testing,” Daniels said.
Norwalk has already partnered with the Community Health Center which has testing locations throughout the state. The Community Health Center provides the testing while the city provides the location.
Daniels said part of the challenge is preparing to test outdoors as the weather gets colder. Indoor testing would be difficult to manage as certain building ventilation requirements would have to be met, but trailers are needed to allow for outdoor testing as temperatures drop.
Schools staff and students are only being asked to quarantine for direct exposure
Many families have received calls from the school district saying their student needs to quarantine. But many asked why this quarantine doesn’t apply to anyone else in the household.
Superintendent Alexandra Estrella said the district is taking a “very conservative” approach to quarantining, often asking an entire classroom to stay home for two weeks if there’s a positive case reported in the room. However, the district is only concerned about someone with a direct exposure quarantining, not those exposed to someone who was exposed to the virus and didn’t test positive. This means siblings can still attend school unless the person quarantined tests positive for the virus.
You cannot test out of quarantine
Some asked about the possibility for school-imposed quarantine to be lifted if a student or staff member tests negative for coronavirus. But Health Services Coordinator Joanne Malinowski said with the nature of COVID, the negative test doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have the virus.
The virus takes time to incubate, she said, and positive results can take days to show after exposure. Someone exposed could test negative three days after being exposed but then test positive seven days later.
“The reason being it’s an RNA virus,” she said. “It replicates quickly and goes on for 14 days.”
To err on the side of caution, the district is asking anyone exposed to stay home to 14 days regardless of what their test says.
Schools are prepared for remote learning, but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen
With New York City schools announcing earlier this week that they’re going fully remote, many parents are left wondering if Norwalk would do the same. The district said it’s always evaluating with the Health Director, but is continuing to focus on individual cases and schools.
The district has been shutting down schools for two weeks on a case-by-case basis. Estrella said most of the closures are related to staffing shortages from people being exposed and needing to quarantine, rather than because of the number of people actually testing positive for COVID-19.
However, she added the staff is prepared to transition “in the blink of an eye,” especially since many schools are often put on remote learning for a day to allow for contact tracing if there’s a case reported the night before.
Chief of Digital Learning and Development Ralph Valenzisi said all student and staff, including those in preschool, have their own device to use in case they switch to online learning.
Assistance is still available to those who need it
Need internet access? School principals can step in. And the Dalio Foundation has partnered with the city to provide high-speed internet to 1,000 Norwalk families. Need help with your student’s device? The district has a depot center for that.
The district is also continuing to offer free meals to any student in the district under the age of 18, regardless of whether or not they attend Norwalk schools. Children may receive a maximum of seven breakfasts and seven lunches per week which families can pick up at several community locations.
Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo said the district is planning on expanding food distribution sites in high-density, high-need areas.
The city also has a page on their website for people who may need assistance with food delivery, mental health and more.
“We want to make sure whatever happens, you have the tools,” Daniels said. “Help is not a bad word.”
The district doesn’t have plans to implement COVID testing in schools right now
Schools in Greenwich and Middletown are piloting in-school testing programs, but Norwalk will not be joining them.
“To date, we don’t have a plan to institute testing at any of our schools,” Costanzo said.
Costanzo said there isn’t an accessible test the district can make available for asymptomatic individuals. He added the district considered testing employees on Fridays, but worried it would only work if people were symptomatic.
Travel and gatherings are not advised for the holidays
Daniels said he has heard many people at COVID testing sites saying they’re being tested so they can travel or gather with relatives on Thanksgiving.
“One of the things we’ve heard is this false pretense of, ‘I’ve tested negative so I can go to Thanksgiving,’” Daniels said. “That’s not the case.”
Since it can take someone up to 14 days after being exposed to test positive for COVID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the city, are recommending people not see anyone not in their household.
D’Amore added many cases are spreading through small family gatherings, and recommended virtual celebrations instead.
“You want to be staying with people in your own households,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of spread with small gatherings. You want to be with families and friends and you trust them ... but that’s how we see the virus spreading.”
The fate of snow days is still unclear
With all students now having the capability to learn remotely, families are wondering if this means snow days are a thing of the past. But Estrella said that’s still to be determined.
“It’s easy if we don’t have power outages to transition to remote,” she said. “Our biggest challenge is when there’s a storm, there’s power outages.”
Vaccines won’t be available on a widespread basis ‘for awhile.’
D’Amore said a vaccine for coronavirus may be available on a limited basis as soon as next month, but it would be distributed to first responders first and those most vulnerable to the disease.
“It’s still going to be awhile until it’s available to everyone,” she said. “We’re looking at different time frames and how we’re going to vaccinate different target populations.”
Rilling said distribution is going to be one of the “biggest challenges” as the city anticipates a large demand for the vaccine.