by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – On Monday, November 9, the Town of Hardwick learned that a Hardwick Police Department (HPD) officer tested positive for COVID, according to Town Manager Shaun Fielder.
On Friday, the town decided to restrict public access to all town buildings. The notice, posted on the town’s website, announced that “Effective Monday November 16, 2020 the Town Offices at Memorial Building, Town Highway Garage, Wastewater Treatment Facility, Police Department will be closed to public access until further notice.” A list of contacts for conducting town business can be found on the town website at hardwickvt.org. “We prefer to do stuff in person,” said Fielder, but said that COVID-19 restrictions are going back to what they were in March.
Using Department of Health (DOH) guidelines, Fielder said the town began its own immediate review of potential close contacts in co-ordination with Chief Aaron Cochran. As a result, two additional officers were put on leave status and told to quarantine. Protocol procedures include individual quarantine for seven days at home, with eligibility for a COVID test on the seventh day.
As of Tuesday, Fielder said both individuals had been tested but the DOH test results have not come back. An influx of tests to the state had resulted in a slow turnaround, he said.
“The days of getting results back in two days, those days are over,” Fielder said. He added the officer who tested positive was “doing okay, they’re home, focused on healing.”
Fielder said the town performed its contact assessment in advance of DOH direction because “they’re (DOH) running 24-48 hours behind.” While the town followed DOH guidelines, Fielder admitted, “We did this assessment, but we’re not the close contact experts. We are trying our best to protect our team, it’s our top priority to make sure those people who are impacted are taken care of.”
Fielder said even with reduced police staffing “I’m not uncomfortable with where we are. We are okay in regards to our operations.” He said officers take vacations or time off during normal operations, so the reduction in staff was not an issue. Should extra support be needed, Fielder said, “we’re always on mutual aid [with other towns for police support]. Vermont State Police would step in, or Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department.”
In an interview last Thursday, Fielder said despite taking all necessary precautions, controlling the spread of COVID-19 might be difficult. “There’s going to be times even when we’re doing everything right it happens, just because of the virulence,” he said.
Due to HIPAA privacy regulations, the DOH cannot disclose when a town employee tests positive for the coronavirus, Fielder said. “They will not call me and say that this person under your employ tested positive, they can’t do that,” he said. Such regulations make controlling the spread of the virus more challenging, he said.
“When you have a small operation, generally the staff members are interacting with everyone,” he said.
The recent spike in COVID cases prompted a review of town policies, Fielder said. “We’re going to be taking some steps not just because of what’s happened but because of the 102 [cases] number today,” he said last Thursday.
As of Tuesday, the town suspended in-person meetings for all boards and committees with all meetings to be held virtually. Other than the three HPD officers on leave, Fielder said he did “not know of any other impacts” to town staffing as a result of the positive test.
The town has made every effort to track COVID’s expansion, Fielder said. “We’re doing our best, folks, is how I would say it, to protect our team and to protect the public.” he said. Residents play a major role in curbing the virus in Hardwick, he said. “Anybody might be getting a call [from DOH]” to notify them they had been in close contact with a COVID case, he said. Should a resident receive notification they were exposed to the virus, Fielder said they should “do the right thing” and quarantine. He added people should follow safety guidelines such as wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing.