Area public buildings and schools close; Marlborough declares state of emergency; Westborough postpones election
By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Region – Even Tom Moses, Hudson’s Executive Assistant, was surprised when Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker tightened COVID-19 prevention measures March 15.
“Big news,” he tweeted that night. “Many questions.”
Twenty-four hours later, he and his colleagues across the region had answers to some of those questions and, in accordance, they were closing almost all public buildings.
“This decision has been made with an abundance of caution,” explained one press release announcing the closure of the Grafton Public Library.
Coming after a realization that COVID19 was spreading freely through seven Mass. counties including the region’s Middlesex and Worcester counties, these new restrictions ban all public gatherings with more than 25 attendees. They also relegate the restaurant industry to take-out service.
Adding to the rapidly changing situation was President Donald Trump, who announced in his own late afternoon press conference March 16 that his administration was recommending no gatherings over 10 people. For now, he stressed, there would be no mandated national shutdown or curfew.
For municipal governments, that makes business as usual next to impossible and prompted a flood of announcements March 16.
One by one, towns closed their public buildings. Most did so indefinitely, making exceptions for lobby traffic to their fire departments, police stations and other public safety facilities. All said they’re keeping as close to a full cadre of staff on the job as possible.
Marlborough, though, did take things a step further, with Mayor Arthur Vigeant declaring a local State of Emergency.
“This…allows the City the ability to take necessary action to address, respond, and mitigate the spread of the virus and will facilitate the use of city, state, and federal resources in this crisis,” Vigeant explained in a press release announcing his decision.
In Westborough, officials postponed their town election scheduled for March 17 as well as their town meeting, booked just 11 days later, for March 28.
That pair of events had become a growing point of concern for Westborough’s leaders in recent days as they publicly weighed the costs of postponing such central tenets of direct democracy against the risks of disease transmission at the polls and in the close quarters of town meeting. Baker’s announcement effectively settled that debate.
“Given the guidance of the CDC and the actions taken at the Federal, State, and Town level, it is clear to me that it is in the best interests of the voters of Westborough,” Town Moderator John Arnold wrote in a statement announcing the postponements March 16.
He added that he’s now awaiting guidance from the state legislature, which he expects to vote on an emergency bill clarifying how to reschedule town meetings and elections postponed due to COVID19.