June 2, 2020

East Providence News Briefs

Covid-19 Pandemic Continues to Dominate News. Governor Closes All RI Schools for the Year

Posted

Distance Learning to Continue through June
As distance learning continues throughout Rhode Island, Governor Raimondo extinguished any hope of students and teachers returning to their physical classrooms this school year.  A grim Raimondo tightened her previously ordered restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Raimondo ordered all public schools to remain physically closed and to continue Distance Learning through June.  Residents were continually asked to “stay at home,” in place until further notice.  All residents are being asked to “Go to work if you can’t work at home, but come right home and stay there,” said the Governor.  All social gatherings of more than 5 people are banned until further notice.  EP playgrounds and parks are all closed to the public.  "I won’t sugarcoat this. There is nothing easy about this," Raimondo said. "As I said at the beginning of this, some learning is better than no learning."  While there has been slight improvement in the trend of coronavirus cases, health experts still feel that Rhode Island isn’t out of the woods yet, by any means.

Nursing Home Deaths Dominate RI Statistics – Orchard View Hard Hit
 Mayor Bob DaSilva has responded to the Orchard View Manor nursing home in the city in the wake of several deaths and staff illness. The Mayor said some 25 or more staff members have tested positive for the virus.  “Staffing levels are still critical.  Thank you to the community who have reached out to support the staff at Orchard View,” said DaSilva.  “Please coordinate any food deliveries with Patricia Resende in our office at Presende@cityofeastprov.com.  She is keeping a schedule of deliveries to avoid duplication of effort.  Orchard View Staff are busy caring for patients and at this time and do not have the manpower to handle different residents reaching out to them on their own,” added DaSilva.  There are 40 coronavirus related deaths at the facility located on Tripps Lane in East Providence to date.  That number is subject to change at any point in time as medical reports are released by the state health department. 

Orchard View Management issued a public statement last month which said in part: “As you may know, this virus has impacted nursing homes at a disproportionately high rate. In Rhode Island, patients and staff have tested positive in dozens of centers. Sadly, Orchard View has been significantly impacted. We are devastated that patients in our care have contracted this virus. We are doing all we can to treat them and our thoughts are with those patients inflicted with this virus and their loved ones.”

“This pandemic has been an incredibly challenging time, and we are working every day to ensure that we provide the safest possible care at Orchard View. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we initiated a series of protections aimed at mitigating the threat of coronavirus at our center. These included restricting visitors to our buildings, dramatically increasing the cleaning and infection control measures, taking the temperature of anyone who entered our center, and increasing the monitoring of all residents at every shift.”

The nursing home went on to say that they are reaching out to families as best as possible due to the staffing shortage. “Due to staffing issues, we are addressing our recent communication issues with our phone lines. Our recent email to families should help them better reach us and we will resume our weekly email blasts and conference calls shortly. We also want to thank the East Providence community and Mayor DaSilva for their support, kind words of encouragement, and amazing gestures to the Orchard Grove Team! We’re all in this together and we appreciate you standing with us,” continued the Orchard View statement.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health confirms that most of the deaths in Rhode Island related to the coronavirus have occurred at nursing homes or similar facilities. 

Orchard View Data as of the end of April: 

  • Current Census 99
  • Residents Positive 84
  • Residents Hospitalized 8
  • Resident Deaths 40
  • Staff Positive 67
  • Staff Hospitalized 3
  • Staff Deaths 1

Silent Motorcade Tribute for Nursing Home Staff & Patients
The City of East Providence led by Mayor Bob DaSilva, held a silent motorcade on Saturday, April 19th to show moral support for nursing home residents and staff in the City.  “These Orchard View Manor residents that have lost their lives as a result of this COVID-19 virus and residents of other facilities, is truly heartbreaking,” said Mayor DaSilva. “It is hard to believe but even harder to imagine what that really means.  These people lost were someone’s grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, sister, brother, cousins, or beloved friend.

Our administration together with our police rescue and fire departments will have a solemn procession and will drive by each of our 9 nursing home facilities beginning with Orchard View Manor to show our respect for those who have passed from this horrible disease and their families and to show support for our nursing home residents and our healthcare workers who continue to sacrifice on the front line each day,” said DaSilva in planning for the motorcade event.

The entire community was welcomed to join in the procession and were asked to refrain from using horns and sirens, etc., “out of respect for those who are resting in the healthcare facilities.”  A large procession with police escort took place as dozens of health care workers came outside of their facilities to acknowledge the passing motorcade. Some patients could be seen peering from room windows.

“Decorate your cars with posters of support and love for Hattie Ide Chaffee Home, Waterview Villa Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, Linn Health & Rehabilitation, Tockwotton on the Waterfront, Eastgate Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Evergreen Health Care Center, Harris Health Center Llc, Elderwood at Riverside, residents, families and healthcare workers,” encouraged the Mayor.  “God bless all of those who have died and those fighting this illness,” said DaSilva.

Distance Learning to Finish School Year; School Dept. facing Layoffs

Bus Company Dispute Noted:
Superintendent of Schools Kathryn Crowley told the School Committee that they expected and are prepared to finish this school year with students and teachers conducting “distance learning.”  Crowley told the committee during a zoom internet meeting that “… our teachers have done an outstanding job.  In some cases we had to say, tale a deep breath and relax.  We all realize that distance learning will not take the place of the teacher in the classroom.  It can’t,” continued the Superintendent.  “But all of our teachers have been creative with lessons.  The communication by principals with staff is extraordinary.  They meet in the morning and then at the end of the day by computer.  There continues to be professional development with teachers.  Be assured we are in touch with our directors and staff just about every day via virtual meetings.  It is going well, and report cards will be out soon as we begin the fourth quarter,” said Crowley.

Finances, Layoffs are a concern
The committee was forewarned that due to the pandemic and its effect on federal. State and local finances, staff layoffs loom in the near future.  The department has already seen some revenue cuts.  “Here is my concern now,” said Crowley.  The state of the economy in Rhode Island.  There are many rumors about budget and state aid being cut across the board.  East Providence has already received a cut in state aid of some $650,000.  If we were to take another hit it would be quite devasting,” she said.

The school department is waiting to hear from the state legislature and Governor regarding funding repercussions due to the pandemic.  While not ready to address specifics right now, the Superintendent did shed some light on what areas may be cut from the budget.  “We’ve been told by legislators to prepare for the worst-case scenario (regarding funding).  We could not sustain our pre-kindergarten program as it exists right now.  Lots of rumors are swirling around the state these days,” Crowley added.

Contractually, the school administration must notify the teacher’s union of any specific staff layoffs by June 1st.  “By next month’s meeting I have to come to you with a layoff list,” Crowley told the School Committee in April.  “In the last four years all layoffs have been recalled.  This year I can’t make any promises.  There will be a substantial number of layoffs across the state.  It’s the law (layoff notification) and related to the uncertainty of finances,” said Crowley.

“If categorical and pre-kindergarten money goes, that will hurt us greatly, I hope that doesn’t happen.  There are some positions that are great to have but their cuts would come first before teachers in a classroom,” said Crowley.  There is a movement among school departments statewide to push back the June 1st notification deadline to August 1st.  Currently the deadline to notify teachers of a layoff is June 1st.  That deadline had been changed from a long time deadline of March 1st, several years ago.  “The Governor could issue an executive decree to push the layoff date to August 1st.  We don’t know yet.  The last thing I want to do is lay off teachers, especially when they have worked so hard on distance learning,” said Crowley.

Bus Company “Squeezing” District
Superintendent Crowley told the committee that teachers and other bargaining units with employment contracts have all agreed to move contract negotiations to at least the end of the summer or later.  Presumably, existing contracts would stay in force.  “We asked teachers and others to wait until late summer to begin contract negotiations and they all agreed.  We just don’t know what our finances will be.  We should have a better grasp on finances in the fall.   One union is not in agreement.  “Our bus company, Ocean State Transit, is squeezing us.  We’ve asked them to allow the current contract to roll over.  They are not willing to do so,” said Crowley.  The current transportation contract was given an extension last June 25th.  The School Committee voted to approve the extension according to Crowley and district financial director Craig Enos.  “Ocean State said they don’t have to honor it because they don’t have anything in writing.  We checked the meeting minutes of June 25, 2019 and the contract extension was approved by the committee,” said Crowley.  Pressed by committee member Jessica Beauchaine for further explanation, Crowley reminded the committee that “this all occurred when I was out of work on medical leave.”  Crowley said an email from the school administration to Ocean State Transportation informed them that the school committee voted to approve a contract extension, which the bus company had requested.  Joel Monteiro indicated that the district should be saving some money with buses currently not running.  “Our overall bussing costs should be less and we’re also not paying for monitors?” asked Monteiro.  “Yes,” said Crowley.  “We are just paying for bus runs to deliver food.”  Beauchaine was told that the bus company does not see an email as a legal contract.  Ocean State Transit responded to The Reporter that although sold, they still maintained the same company name.  They did not respond further when asked to comment on the contract question.

Superintendent Crowley reported that the district is receiving about $1.2M in pandemic emergency federal funding.  “We are awaiting direction on how those dollars can be appropriated.  We know it is not for repeating operating costs as it’s for one time purchases only.  We hope to apply it to pandemic related expenses not covered in our budget.  Things like paying for food runs, etc.,” Crowley stated.

Executive order mandates face masks, cloth coverings when in public
 East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva has issued an executive order that will mandate anyone over the age of 2 who are able to tolerate a face covering, to wear a mask or cloth covering over their mouth and nose at all times when in public.

If an individual is in violation of the order, the business or non-profit organization has the right to refuse entry or service to the individual on the grounds of protecting the health and safety of all individuals within the business or non-profit organization, states the order.

“East Providence has an elderly population and we need to not only protect that population, but we need to -- together as a community -- use all resources available to us to protect the entire population from contracting COVID-19,” Mayor DaSilva said. “While 90 percent of the population who are out in public in our city are wearing some sort of covering, there is still a percentage of people who are not wearing a covering.”

“We implore you do follow the order so that we may stop the spread,” DaSilva added. In addition, the order also orders business and non-profits within the City of East Providence to post clear signage at all of its entrances regarding the requirement of the wearing of masks or cloth face coverings while in the store or agency.  The East Providence order extends further than Governor Raimondo’s directive which stated that:

“All employees of customer-facing businesses, office-based businesses, manufacturers and nonprofits, must wear cloth face coverings when they are at work.  Business must provide face coverings for their employees. Face coverings can include scarves, bandanas, and other homemade and non-factory-made masks.

Additionally, all customer-facing businesses must take steps to remind customers to wear face coverings. That means they should be putting up signs at the door reminding customers to wear a face covering inside.

The only exceptions from these rules are for anyone whose health would be in jeopardy because of wearing a face covering or any children under 2 years old,” Governor Raimondo.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

Mayor Extends City Deadlines Due to Pandemic
On April 16, 2020, Mayor Bob DaSilva issued an update on his actions to ease stress faced by city residents due to the Covid-19 crisis. “The Mayor’s office and the City Council continue to do what we can to assist residents as we face this crisis together,” said a statement from the Mayor. The amended executive order is as follows:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Mayor Roberto L. DaSilva, by virtue of the authority vested in me as the Mayor of the City of East Providence, pursuant to the Rhode Island General Laws and the Home Rule Charter of the City of East Providence, do hereby order and direct the following:”

Executive Order 2020-006 shall hereby be amended as follows:

  • All late charges of city water bills shall continue to be suspended until further notice.
  • All utility shutoffs related to the late payment of city water bills shall continue to be suspended until further notice.
  • All deadlines to apply for tax exemptions for residents of the city shall continue to be suspended until further notice.
  • The city tax sale process shall be suspended until June 18, 2020.

This Order shall take effect immediately and remain in full force and effect through May 8, 2020, unless extended by and with the consent of the City Council.

City awards COVID-19 no payment, no interest small business loans, encourages additional East Providence small businesses to apply
The city of East Providence has awarded $45,500 or just under one-third of the City’s total allocation of $150,000 to 11 local, small businesses.  East Providence businesses are dealing with unprecedented economic disruption due to this health crisis. Some have had to close temporarily while others have had to cut back on workers.

“This is a difficult time for everyone, especially our small businesses—these loan programs provide the much needed financial relief to our local salons, landscaping businesses and gymnastic studios, to name a few,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. “And the great news is, we have additional funds allocated to help additional small businesses.

These small business relief loans were designed by the city’s Planning and Economic Development office to get these businesses through a period of financial hardship.

Jennifer and Christopher Voll, owners of three East Providence businesses including Cypress Design Co. and East Side Construction (which together have 15 employees), needed some support to keep their businesses moving.  So they turned to the Rhode Island SBA.  “All of our businesses have been impacted by this pandemic,” Jennifer Voll said.  “Immediately I got in touch with RI SBA’s Dennis McCarthy and he mentioned that the City was the first to be offering small business loans.”

The Volls got to work, filled out the applications and have been approved for funding.

“It was another source to keep our employees on staff and doors open,” she said.  “This is absolutely going to help with overhead, vendor bill and utilities.  This will be a huge help.”

The Community Development: Job Retention Loan Program, includes no payments for six months and no interests for the life of the loan and the Urban Development Action: COVID-19 Small Business Assistance Program offers no interest, no payments for six months.

The two programs, which are supported with existing federal grant funds, address the short-term financial needs of local businesses and those who are self-employed.  The two programs are designed to provide the necessary funding to cover the businesses’ various financial needs including: payroll, rent, utilities and other fixed expenses.

The City's loans do not preclude borrowers from accessing any other loan source.  City loans cannot be used to pay for the same itemized expenses that other loans will be used for.  In addition, the City has also modified the payment schedule for seven existing loan participants. Payments on current loan programs will be deferred for three months beginning this month.

In order to gain feedback on how local businesses have been impacted by the pandemic, the City, together with the East Providence Chamber of Commerce, has distributed a survey to East Providence businesses.  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YZFFNNK 

Applications for Small Business Relief may be found here:

Small Business Assistance:

http://www.eastprovidenceri.net/filestorage/9177/9461/9463/25791/PR_COVID_19_Small_Biz_Assistance_Loan_%28final%29.pdf 

Loan Retention: 

http://www.eastprovidence.com/filestorage/9177/9461/9463/25791/PR_COVID_19_Job_Retention_Loan_%28final%29.pdf.

Bluff Erosion Remedy at Crescent Park
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is partnering with the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the City of East Providence to test the effectiveness of “living shoreline” erosion controls at Crescent Park.  TNC and the CRMC issued a press release in late April outlining the project to control beach erosion at the park.

“The steep coastal bluffs at the site of the former Crescent Park and the adjacent shoreline

rise 20 to 30 feet above the narrow beach. Erosion has carved out the lower third of the bluff in several areas.  Fallen trees, whose root systems have been undermined, are common features at the base of the bluff.  Previous efforts to reduce erosion through traditional practices, such as the placement of riprap and seawalls, have failed,” said the joint statement by Tim Mooney, TNC communications manager and Laura Dwyer, CRMC information coordinator.

“At the northern end of Rose Larisa Park, the bank will be cut away to reduce the slope.

Stone will be placed at the base of the bluff and logs made of coconut fiber will be installed farther up the slope. The bluff will be planted with native vegetation.  Near the southern boundary of the park, small intertidal sills will be constructed, consisting of three low stone structures.  Three feet tall, they will be designed to be topped by seawater at high tide.  Sand will be added between the sill and the base of the bluff and planted with native salt marsh plants.”

The construction contract was awarded to SumCo Eco-Contracting of Salem, Mass. through a competitive bidding process.  The project is funded in part through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Resiliency Fund. TNC raised additional matching funds with grants from 11th Hour Racing and the RI Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration Trust Fund, administered by CRMC.  Total construction cost is $232,000.

SumCo will access the project area from the top of Rose Larisa Park and via the end of Beach Road.  The two approaches will be developed simultaneously, shifting between the sites, depending on the tide.  The work is expected to be completed by mid-May.  The project at Rose Larisa Park is part of a larger regional initiative, also funded by NOAA and managed by TNC, to learn how living shorelines perform in New England.

Unlike concrete or stone seawalls, living shorelines are designed to prevent erosion while also providing habitat for marine life. While these new techniques have been implemented extensively elsewhere in the United States, few have been permitted, built and evaluated in New England. These small-scale, experimental projects will give coastal engineers and coastal permitting agencies a better sense of their cost and effectiveness.

“This project is an excellent example of using nature to protect coastal communities like East Providence from the effects of climate change,” said John Torgan, state director of The Nature Conservancy.  “We can mitigate sea-level rise in a way that is beautiful and restorative, and that will be great for people and for the fish and wildlife in the city.”

This section of East Providence’s shoreline contains debris from various failed attempts at erosion control such as bulkheads, seawalls, and riprap. In some cases, debris comprised of large concrete slab sections over 20 feet long sit at the bottom of the bluff.

In addition to posing a public safety hazard, this debris does little to absorb incoming wave energy and is exacerbating the erosion problem.

“One of the goals of this project is to find an effective, convenient erosion control method that does not worsen erosion in adjacent areas, and also provides habitat benefits,” said Janet Freedman, CRMC coastal geologist. “The erosion control structures that already exist in the area do offer protection against storm-induced erosion, but to the detriment of beach and bluff habitat. Many of these structures already extend into the intertidal area.

As sea levels rise, the intertidal habitat and limited lateral shoreline access will disappear altogether. We need something better and are hoping this project will provide valuable insight and solutions.”

Nature Based Solutions
Unlike seawalls, living shorelines are designed to enhance habitat for marine life. At the north end of the park’s beach, the bank will be cut away to reduce the slope. Stone will be placed at the base of the bluff and logs made of coconut fiber will be installed farther up the slope. The bluff will be  planted with native vegetation.

Bluffs Eroding into the Bay
The steep coastal bluffs at Rose Larisa Park rise 20 to 30 feet above the narrow beach along the shoreline of upper Narragansett Bay. Erosion has carved out the lower third of the bluff in several areas. Fallen trees, whose root systems have been undermined, are common features at the base of the bluff, as is debris from failed attempts at erosion control. Fallen walls mar the beach’s aesthetics, do little to absorb wave energy and make the erosion problem worse. A collapsed concrete retaining wall lies on the beach. Can nature offer a better way? To the south, we will build three small intertidal sills with stone. Three feet tall, they will be designed to flood at high tide. Sand will be added between the sill and the bluff, and the area will be planted with native salt marsh grasses. Similar techniques have been used extensively elsewhere in the United States, but few have been permitted, built and evaluated in New England. These small-scale projects will give coastal engineers and scientists a better sense of their cost and effectiveness.

“Where Crescent Park used to be.  We can mitigate climate change in a way that is beautiful and restorative, and that will be great for people and for the fish and wildlife in the city.  In partnership with Coastal Resources Management Council of Rhode Island, City of East Providence - Office of the Mayor, and 11th Hour Racing.”

Taunton Avenue Resurfacing
The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) issued a press release to state that they have started a resurfacing project for 0.5 miles of Taunton Avenue (Route 44) from just east of the Pawtucket Avenue intersection to the Massachusetts state line in East Providence. The $4.8 million project includes stormwater improvements to alleviate chronic flooding problems along this road during heavy rainstorms.

Construction began at the end of April at the Park & Ride on Taunton Avenue, close to the Massachusetts state line.  RIDOT will use a portion of the lot for construction of a stormwater bioretention basin that will collect runoff from the road, treating it and allowing it to slowly release into the ground instead of contributing to the flooding of Taunton Avenue.  The lot will remain open for RIPTA bus riders and carpoolers through the project and ample spaces will be retained for future commuter use.

Work on the roadway itself will begin in late April/early May and may require weekday lane closures between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. At least one lane in each direction will remain open at all times during daytime work. The project is anticipated to be done by Spring 2021.

In addition to resurfacing and the new stormwater basin, the project includes new drainage structures as well as curbing and repairs as needed.  All construction projects are subject to changes in schedule and scope depending on needs, circumstances, findings, and weather, said state engineers.

“The paving of Taunton Avenue is made possible by RhodeWorks, RIDOT's ongoing commitment to repair structurally deficient bridges and bring Rhode Island's transportation infrastructure into a state of good repair, promote economic development, and create jobs.  Learn more at www.ridot.net/RhodeWorks,” stated a RIDOT release.

EP Teacher Praised by State Commissioner
In her “Commissioner's Memo to Teachers” last month, R.I. Commissioner of Education Infante-Green included a paragraph in her newsletter about East Providence teacher Jennifer Graham: “Shout out to Ms. Jennifer Graham who is the secondary technology and intervention coach in East Providence.  Ms. Graham has been a positive influence on social media for all teachers throughout the week. S he has shared multiple strategies for streamlining a virtual classroom as well as self-care tips for educators.  Ms. Graham also participated in the #see10do10 push-up challenge and encouraged many other East Providence educators to participate.  Keep up the amazing work!  You are an inspiration, Ms. Jennifer Graham,” writes Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green.

May Features Memorial Day and Tracy’s Flags
Since May of 2014, former city councilwoman Tracy Capobianco has spearheaded a drive to festoon the annual Memorial Day parade route in Riverside with American flags on telephone poles and homes.  Her patriotic notion has caught momentum and the tradition continues.  “I appreciate that residents across East Providence have supported the idea and each year it seemed to grow.  As we move on to the 2020 Memorial Day season, we face the challenge of a pandemic health crisis.  I’m sure the parade situation is uncertain at this time however, I still think the flags could be put up.  They make people happy and especially this year I think folks could use that,” said Capobianco.

Supporters of the Memorial Day flag program have expanded the effort to neighborhoods beyond the parade route in Riverside.  “It really is one of the great community efforts in East Providence,” added Capobianco.  “Over these past few months we have really seen the pride of people in EP.  It is such a wonderful community that has birthday parades, people leaving books out for one another, baking for the community, among so many other things done for people during a quarantine to mostly stay home.  We are really fortunate here,” she said.

Capobianco has reached out to Mayor Bob DaSilva to see if the City can continue putting up flags along the parade route.  She made sure to launder all the flags after last years parade.  “They should still be in good shape,” she said.

For his part, Mayor DaSilva has agreed to continue the tradition.  “I’ve set it in motion with staff,” DaSilva told Capobianco.  “The parade status may be unclear right now, but let’s get those flags up,” he promised.

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