Cities and towns around the state are making changes daily to protect people and to slow the spread. In Salem, the latest is a requirement for people to wear something to cover their faces while not at home. It will take effect on Sunday. And that's not all they're doing. Morning Edition's Joe Mathieu spoke with Mayor Kim Driscoll about all the measures they are taking.
Joe Mathieu: The Salem Board of Health issued this emergency order. Anyone entering an essential business, or working at one, for that matter, or even walking through the common area of a residential building, all must cover their faces with something. Do we have it right?
Mayor Kim Driscoll: You've got it. We really felt like there was an additional action that was necessary, just given the safety of individuals working and the members of the public that do need to go into these essential businesses.
Mathieu: When you talk about a face covering, we're talking about any kind of piece of cloth or material that covers the mouth and nose, similar to the order in Boston.
Driscoll: Exactly. Public health officials are really stressing to folks that they prefer they use some sort of a cloth, scarf ,or bandanna, as opposed to a mask that might be necessary for health officials and public safety personnel or first responders.
Mathieu: I see that Salem is, in fact, as we mentioned, going to enforce this order. There'll be penalties for people who don't comply.
Driscoll: That's correct. The board did not want to make this advisory. They really felt like they needed to send a strong message to members of the public to take this seriously. While many people are already sort of donning masks before they go into these facilities, there are still many who are not. And they didn't want to just issue a guideline. They felt, especially with the peak coming and we're seeing a surge, we just had a member of our community pass away. Our first resident who succumbed to the coronavirus was actually a grocery store employee. So, I think there was a desire on their part to make sure people didn't just see this as something that is a maybe. And it really needed to be a have to.
Mathieu: Mayor, I can't say enough about these grocery store workers. We've been talking about it a lot here on Morning Edition and on Early Edition. Any of us who have to get to the store, and at some point you need to get to the store, are just blown away. By the way, they've been conducting themselves leaning into this responsibility to basically feed our community.
Driscoll: Absolutely, and I think this individual who passed away really hit a chord here in Salem, because so many of us regularly shop at the grocery store where this individual worked. It's a very familiar setting. Many of us knew her. You interact with her in those just normal moments, you know, when you're going through a checkout line and to think that, you know, somebody passed away from this illness. We all need to do everything we can to protect them, protect us. We've got high school kids working there. It's a range of individuals. So it's really necessary. And we hope we don't have to issue tickets or anything like that. We hope people will just comply.
Mathieu: I'm really sorry to hear that news, Mayor. You know, you walk out of the grocery store these days and you see gloves all over the parking lot. Doesn't matter where you are. You see them on the sidewalk. And I notice you're doing something about that, too.
Driscoll: We really feel like we have to also remind folks that they just can't dispose of gloves or masks anywhere. Parking lots are littered with them. Streets are littered with them. Our public service personnel who are already working under some strange circumstances are then required to go pick them up or other folks. And it's not somebody else's responsibility. You know, I'm kind of sad we have to tell people don't dispose of things like that just on the street. But we need to and we're serious about that word as well. And we can't be everywhere. So we're trying to remind folks, you know, we need to be extra vigilant and how we're behaving during these times.
Mathieu: We were noting earlier that you're working on a field hospital. Essentially, a shelter is probably a better word, at Salem High School. What's the plan there?
Driscoll: Yeah, we are setting up a quarantine site for members of our homeless population in conjunction with the communities of Lynn and Beverly. We all three have homeless shelters within our cities and there is not really a place if you are someone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine. While many of us, if we were exposed to somebody and potentially, you know, a carrier of the illness were known to be would quarantine at home. Obviously, if you're a homeless individual, that's a challenge. And in the shelters, there just isn't adequate space to quarantine or social distance. So we'll have a regional shelter within the high school setting that will enable that to occur.
Mathieu: Is that something that's opening this weekend?
Driscoll: It is. We were actually hoping to have it open yesterday, but the timeline slipped a bit. There's a lot of logistics setting something like this up. It will either be open later today or first thing tomorrow morning, and it's definitely needed.
Mathieu: There's so many moving parts right now. Are you doing all this via Zoom or conference call, or what's your work life like now, Mayor?
Driscoll: I never want to be on a Zoom call again. Actually, it's been a great tool to connect us. And I think it will be something that becomes part of the new normal because it allows people to engage without having to come to city hall for a meeting. So there's some positives to it, although right now it feels like it's a necessity that I'd rather not always have to be on.
Mathieu: You think of Salem in springtime. You think the Peabody Essex Museum, you've got Salem State College, of course, it's the time of the year that Salem Willows starts waking up again. How strange does it feel right now to walk down the street?
Driscoll: It's really lonely. Just even walking into city hall, which is normally bustling with activity. Community like ours thrives on tourism and hospitality. We like being the place where people come to go out and, you know, visit an exhibit, take part in a festival. So it's it's lonely. We're looking forward to the time we can get back to streets bustling with activities, great public spaces, you know, holding festivals. And we're we're hopeful. Right now we need to do what's right to stay in. But we know eventually this will be over and we'll be able to be back in each other's spaces with each other in a meaningful way.
Mathieu: We missed you on St. Patrick's Day this year. That was right when this whole thing was getting started and people really started changing their their lifestyles around it.
Driscoll: Agreed. I mean, the PEM has had some amazing exhibits and, you know, it's there's lots of great public spaces in Salem, like I said, and we're used to having them busy. It's a big hit to the business community. So there's this extra hurdle when you have folks who are hurting that made these investments that make our community a great place. But we're coming together. We're gonna figure it out right now. We've got to do this hard part. And I hope that afterwards we'll come together on the revitalization and recovery aspect of things, as well.