By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – The largest population center in the region, Marlborough has stood on the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on Massachusetts for weeks.
It saw the first local confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 11 and became the first community in the region to declare a state of emergency when Mayor Arthur Vigeant did so on March 16.
As its health department has wrestled with such challenges, the city has also seen many of the issues plaguing neighbors challenge it.
As districts across the state and the country face tough decisions about closing schools, officials in Marlborough have had to make independent decisions on three different public schools districts, overseeing eight schools and nearly 7,000 students.
As health officials have tried to direct patients to care, Marlborough has provided care, identifying and at least holding the capability to treat COVID-19 patients at its UMass Memorial Hospital.
The Community Advocate has tracked and aggregated all that news below…
Marlborough restricts public access to buildings, launches aid programs during coronavirus strain
As agencies and private companies across the city have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, Marlborough’s central office has been public and at times aggressive in its own actions.
Days after confirming that aforementioned COVID-19 case, Vigeant declared a state of emergency March 16. That declaration, a statement read, shut the doors of City Hall to the general public and cancelled all public meetings that organizers could not successfully transition to enable online remote participation.
Within the following days, the city placed a new metal drop box outside of City Hall and directed residents with documents they needed to get to public officials to do so through that box.
Since those immediate responses to its own declaration, Marlborough city government has settled into the ongoing COVID-19 situation by launching a “community hotline” for residents to get COVID-19 information, and by extending the annual motor vehicle excise tax deadline.
That latter deadline decision came on March 20 and marked a small but notable measure city officials hoped would alleviate the stress COVID-19 has placed on residents.
“During difficult and trying times, providing relief to the residents of Marlborough is the main objective of my office, city staff, and the city council,” Vigeant said in a statement announcing the delay. “Extending the excise demand deadline is just one way to be of assistance while staying within the guidelines of the law.”
Stations restrict access, modify burn permit process
The Marlborough Fire Department began gently restricting access to its three stations March 17 amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“We are working closely with local, state, and federal agencies to protect the health and safety of our residents,” a statement announcing the news read. “…operational precautions are being implemented to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”
All station tours have since been suspended while the public itself will not be allowed to enter stations at all.
Instead, residents needing to speak with representatives from the fire department will ring a doorbell outside the station to meet with a firefighter who responds.
Like several other area towns that have closed station access, the Marlborough Fire Department has also banned outside groups from using its training spaces.
Unlike neighboring Hudson, though, the department will continue issuing burn permits, simply asking the public to request such documentation through the phone, rather than in person.
Building closed, some programs persist with modifications
Responding to warnings that senior citizens are individuals most at risk during the COVID-19 crisis, Marlborough has closed its senior center while working to keep open some critical functions of the council on aging.
Though the building is, indeed, closed, its Meals on Wheels program has remained operational.
Elsewhere, Senior Center transportation services, which normally drop off medication at residents’ homes and transport some to appointments have been curtailed but remain available by request through a recently announced senior aid program.
Building closed, staff remain on duty working towards “remote borrowing”
The Marlborough Public Library has closed its physical building but suspended punitive measures such as fines in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
Outside of new fine policies, the library is allowing residents without library cards to forgo the traditional in-person sign up requirement and, instead, register online.
That, a statement announcing the library closure said, lines up with efforts to enable remote borrowing and other general access to the library’s resources over the internet.
“We will be providing frequent and ongoing information and instructions,” that statement read.
Rec. department encourages passive recreation, closes facilities
The Marlborough Recreation Department recently announced the cancellation of outdoor programs and the closure of outdoor public facilities.
That news effectively shutters all playgrounds, outdoor tennis and basketball courts, as well as all exercise equipment areas and the city’s skatepark.
The Recreation Department offices, which overlook many of those facilities at the city’s Ghiloni Park, also remain closed to the public.
“The health and safety of our residents is our top priority,” a statement announcing this read. “We encourage everyone to practice social distancing.”
In line with that push, the Recreation Department has encouraged use of the city’s hiking trails. That aligns with a general promotion of “passive recreation,” which complies with social distancing guidelines, that is so far heralded by neighboring Hudson as well as other nearby communities.
Schools closed, aggressive food distribution plan in progress
Closing schools, Marlborough has, among other things, launched a mammoth food distribution program in an effort to keep low income students fed during the COVID19 shutdown.
Indeed, as schools closed this month, over 1,000 students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals through their cafeterias went home to families possibly unable to adequately feed them due to financial insecurity.
Thus, in addition to online enrichment programs the district launched, school officials planned a system where city contracted busses drop off prepacked lunches at nearly 40 locations throughout the community as district schools themselves also prepare and distribute food from their doors.
As the city hunkers down, school officials are aware of their place on the front lines of the COVID19 crisis and are encouraging students, staff and other community members to stay safe.
“The school closures will be ineffective if groups of students and families are gathering and spreading the virus,” superintendent Michael Bergeron wrote in a statement. “My plea to the community is to please consider those who cannot defend themselves against this virus.