Reading, MA — Eleanor Shonkoff from the Board of Health updated the Select Board on Reading’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Shonkoff praised the town’s health staff stating that the staff is “handling the caseload well.” As of April 21, there have been 132 reported cases on COVID-19 in Reading with 93 being active with seven deaths.
Shonkoff continued, reporting that the Board of Health is planning on issuing an order on Friday, April 24 which will require the use of a face mask in situations where residents cannot maintain physical distancing of six feet, such as in a grocery store or entering an apartment building. It also would require employees of stores to wear masks while at work.
Questions were asked regarding the town providing masks for residents. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur answered that masks have been ordered for distribution to senior citizens and those who may be health compromised. He suggested that it would be extremely difficult for the town to acquire the 80,000+ masks it would take to provide them for the entire population of the town.
Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios advised the Select Board that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has developed a mitigation plan for traffic back-ups occurring almost daily on Main Street at the Bagel World Restaurant. According to Delios, the issue, which was a “nagging problem” has turned into a “safety problem” since the road diet trial on South Main Street has gone into effect. The issue has been exacerbated by the increase in drive-through business at Bagel World during the COVID-19 shutdown of sit-down business at local restaurants.
Starting Thursday, April 23, MassDOT will pay for a police detail at the site until other mitigation plans can be implemented. These plans include modification of the lane configuration at Bagel World, turning the six-foot bicycle lane into a seven and a half foot right-turn lane at Bagel World, and painting an island with signage for the left-turn lane at the site. MassDOT will also be reviewing the driveway permit for the site to see if changes can be made.
Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado shared concerns regarding the tension between safety on the well-traversed state highway and not wanting to “punish” a successful local business. Member Karen Gately Herrick followed this up recognizing, “The road diet did not create this problem. It was already there.” Member Carlo Bacci continued expressing hope that the involvement of MassDOT’s better signage will get Bagel World to “pay more attention” and “help them do the right thing.”
The Select Board voted 5-0 to extend the Human Rights Ad Hoc committee until December of 2020, with Select Board members Anne Landry and Carlo Bacci, School Committee members Sean Brandt and John Parks, and Andrew Grimes from the Library Board of Trustees.
Alvarado reported that the Reading Municipal Light Department Board of Commissioners will be continuing the discussion at their next meeting regarding its annual below-the-line payment to the town of Reading, which will affect the July 2021 payment. She also reminded the Select Board that the RMLD Twenty-Year Agreement needs to be renewed by the board by the end of May.
By a vote of 5-0, the Select Board appointed Bacci and Herrick to the Volunteer Appointment Sub-Committee. Select Board Chair Mark Dockser noted that there could be more than 60 open positions on various boards and committees this year, encouraging members of the public to apply. The board also spent time discussing its communications and social media policy, which will continue at a future meeting.
The Select Board adjourned at 10:40 pm.