BRANFORD — It will be a while before it’s business as usual, but Branford officials are taking steps toward a “phased and measured” reopening of businesses, restaurants, parks, and other town services.
“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” cautioned East Shore Health District Department director Michael Pascucilla. “There is still significant risk.” The health department covers East Haven, Branford, and North Branford.
Pascucilla has been working with town officials in helping restaurants and business reopen with guidelines established by the state. He is also overseeing testing within the area, specifically at Stony Creek Urgent Care in Branford. Tests can be arranged by initiating a virtual visit at https://www.solvhealth.com/book-online/0VlEmp.
“Going forward contact tracing will also be done,” Pascucilla said.
Public access has been limited to Town Hall, the public libraries, the Community House, both fire and police stations, public works facility, and all other town-related programs, but employees are working remotely to serve the community.
Now, according to First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, staff are returning to their offices. Walk-ins are discouraged but appointments can be made for in-person services; dropboxes are also available for applications and the number of people inside the building at any one time is limited and monitored.
Town meetings have been held via ZOOM, the popular video conferencing application.
Cosgrove said the Blackstone Library and Willoughby Wallace Library will be offering curbside pickup of materials. While no date has been set for opening the buildings to the public, library directors Karen Jansen and Alice Penz are working together on that effort. In the meantime, the staff has made a big effort to offer many regular programs and services online.
The Community House/Senior Center is still closed for meeting, Cosgrove said, but the staff are in their offices. The parks and hiking trails in town are open, as are tennis courts at the high school and Veterans’ Park although the courts at Foote Park are closed to resurfacing. However, basketball courts and playground equipment are closed.
“We continue to promote social distancing,” Cosgrove said. “Signage and banners are posted and people should wear masks.”
The expiration date for resident stickers has been extended until June 30. Residents just need to show their expired sticker when accessing the transfer station or Branford Point Parking. Stickers can also be obtained by mailing a copy of your license, motor vehicle registration and check or money order payable to the Tax Collector, Town of Branford in the amount of $5 to P.O. Box 136, Branford, CT 06405. Those over 65 can send their registration and license copy for one sticker free of charge per household. For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3e4Xinj.
During the pandemic closures, local restaurants have gone out of their way to offer take-out and delivery and now, Cosgrove said, the Building Department under the direction of Tony Cinicola and Pascucilla, along with the Fire Marshal, have been working with them to streamline the process of reopening.
“We’ve done a lot in a short time,” Pascucilla said.
Detailed guidelines have been created by the state to oversee the cautious reopening of local restaurants, which took place on May 20. Restaurants are now allowed to serve customers via outside dining with social distancing and various protective measures.
The town has created a two-fold process: a Temporary Outdoor Dining Certificate Application for outdoor dining not previously approved and a Temporary Encroachment Application for outdoor activities on public throughways. Also available is an Existing Outdoor Dining Reopening Application and checklist from East Shore Health Department.
“They’ve been going door to door to help owners with existing applications and walking them through the process,” said Cosgrove. “And in most cases, it can all be taken care of on the spot.”
Pascucilla said, “We want to give businesses the OK as quick as possible. So far there have been no major glitches.” He added that there are certain requirements that must be followed if restaurants are erecting tents, for instances no sides are allowed.
Cosgrove said there are between 75 and 100 restaurants in Branford.
Local businesses are “still quiet,” Cosgrove said. Because retail must comply with the state executive order, no local oversight is needed. Hair salons and barber shops are expected to reopen June 1, followed by nail salons, tattoo parlors, and similar businesses on June 20.
Sadly, the town’s popular summer events – the Memorial Day parade, the Branford Festival, the fireworks display, and most recently, the Branford Jazz series – have all been canceled. All are promising returns for next year.
Although nursing homes and assisted living facilities fall under state regulations, Pascucilla said he has been checking in with them on a daily basis and providing personal protective equipment.
At Branford Hills Heath Care Center, there have been 24 deaths; at Hearth at Gardenside, five deaths; Artis Assisted Living, two deaths. At Evergreen Woods in North Branford, no deaths have been reported. In East Haven, no deaths have been reported at the Village at Mariner’s Point; 26 deaths at Whispering Pines; and four at Apple Rehab (LaurelWoods).
Districtwide, Pascucilla said, the statistics on the number of cases of COVID-19 and deaths are updated daily. As of May 26, he said there were 825 cases with 80 fatalities, broken down as follows: Branford reported 331 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 40 deaths and 1,664 tested; East Haven, 406 cases, 36 fatalities, and 1,898 tested; and North Branford, 80 cases, 4 fatalities, and 566 tested.
For regular updates, go to https://portal.ct.gov/coronavirus.