Municipal buildings close to the public Monday; City enforces distancing, led by many in the arts (updated)
To help contain a coronavirus outbreak, city government decided Sunday to close all municipal buildings to the public at 5 p.m. Monday until further notice, with City Hall remaining open for the City Council meeting at 5:30 p.m. but other “essential” meetings on the official calendar – Planning Board and School Committee meetings and an Ordinance Committee hearing – to be announced.
Update on March 16, 2020: Meetings, including the Monday meeting of the City Council, will no longer be conducted in public and open and physically accessible to the public, but will be accessible to the public remotely and will allow for participation by the public through alternative means, officials said in a 2:50 p.m. email. The public is encouraged to submit testimony and comments at cambridgema.gov/remotepubliccomment.
Public comment will be available electronically starting at 5:30 p.m., with participation by phone or computer at zoom.us/j/9246600496. Instructions on using the technology will be posted on the City’s Open Meeting Portal, officials said.
“Given the current public health crisis, these operational adjustments are necessary to protect the general public and to be able to transact necessary business for the time being. We appreciate the public’s patience as we navigate through this together,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said.
The move came after already announced closings of schools, libraries, Department of Human Services Programs’ preschool and after-school programs, youth and senior centers, and a number of other public facilities, as well as the cancellation of all permitted events citywide, said a 9:51 p.m. email from City Manager Louis A. DePasquale and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.
Bars and restaurants statewide are banned from sit-down business starting Tuesday until April 6 by order of Gov. Charlie Baker, although eateries can deliver or sell food for takeaway service. The city will work on notifying businesses of the rule and enforcing it, said the email from DePasquale and Siddiqui, as well as on educating the public of the state ban on gatherings of 25 people or more at all community, civic, public, leisure and faith-based events – including sports games with spectators, concerts, conventions, fitness centers, gyms, private clubs, cinemas and theaters.
Arts and culture organizations have been shutting down operations over the past several days. On Sunday, the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square said it was closing its doors until at least April 3, joining The Brattle Theatre and Harvard Film Archive in a temporary dimming of the screens. “We plan to reopen as soon as reasonably possible, though that likely depends on factors beyond our control,” Somerville Theatre management said. At around 7 p.m. Monday, Landmark Kendall Square Cinemas joined in closing its doors.
[email protected] in Central Square followed the Dance Complex in suspending all rentals and classes, in this case for two weeks starting Monday, while the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge went a different way. It is “working with producers and presenters to do what they feel is their best course of action. We are rescheduling some events and at this juncture we will continue to remain open,” said Shelley Neill, executive director of the center, pointing to a K-8 art show running from March 23 to April 3. Neill said she hoped people would come see the show.
“We ask everyone coming through our doors to wash their hands before entering the gallery or the theater. We know that the decision of how you will decide to proceed over the next few weeks, or months, will be determined by each of you individually,” Neill said.
Foods and household goods
Retail stores can stay open as long as 25 people or fewer are present in them, and the business ban doesn’t apply to grocery stores or pharmacies, the email said.
Grocery stores have been stripped of foods such as bread and soups and household goods such as spray cleaners and toilet paper in panic stockpiling. City officials will be “communicating regularly with supermarkets and food stores to discuss operations and supply chain challenges,” the email said.
The city also plans to work on “communicating with the small business and artist communities on potential resources and relief, [and on] collaborating with the nonprofit ecosystem on creating a systematic approach to coordinating donations and volunteerism to assist our various community needs,” according to the email. Groups such as Cambridge Local First are a bit ahead of municipal officials; the small-business coalition sent out an announcement late Sunday it was gathering resources for its members and would share their online offerings with the public.
“CultureHouse has closed its doors and launched a website with resources. Forage will be offering its whole menu for takeout and delivery for the foreseeable future. Formaggio Kitchen’s Kendall Square location is offering discounted delivery to locations within a 2-mile radius of the Hampshire Street store,” executive director Theodora Skeadas said, offering examples of how businesses have begun to redirect their energies with in-person visits complicated by the need for self-isolation and social distancing.
Callie Chapman, director of [email protected], gave her own example over the weekend, advising dancers to “be on the lookout for online class options as they become available on our website. We will also be posting a comprehensive list soon of synchronistic/anachronistic class options.”
The city plans to set up an ad hoc advisory working group to help with the planning and response efforts. The group, which will report to the Public Health commissioner, will be made up of various experts, residents, health care providers and city staff, DePasquale and Siddiqui said. A call for volunteers is expected this week.