After two months of partial lock-down, officials in Orange have turned their attention to planning a limited, but safe re-opening. Many of the popular summer events are canceled in Orange, including the Fourth of July concert and fireworks, the Firemen’s carnival, even the Orange Country Fair in September.
Although fireworks are allowed per the Governor’s order, attendance is capped at 500 people – with blankets spaced out 15 feet away from each other. However, when these decisions were taken back in May, it was unclear whether the more stringent conditions would be lifted in time for the summer events.
“This is totally unknown,” said Fred Palmer, Orange Emergency Management director about the coronavirus. Restrictions are put in place to keep people healthy, he said. Town Hall, for instance, is open to the public, but people need to wear a mask.
Health Director Dr. Amir Mohammad said the Emergency Management Advisory Council continues to meet every Friday, and keeps tabs on what is happening in town in terms of coronavirus. The Council, which comprises representatives of police and fire, AMR, the selectmen and the school superintendent, also has representatives of the business community, the clergy and the Visiting Nurse Association.
The first case of Covid 19 was reported in Orange in early March, and in subsequent weeks the numbers rose to about 80 in the community at large, at its peak. In addition, Orange Health Care and Rehab Center had about 43 cases, three of whom did not survive. But compared to many other care facilities in the area, they fared remarkably well. By the end of May, the center happily reported “recovery of all of its in-house COVID cases.” The new normal for these patients includes “one-on-one outdoor time with staff, a little gardening, open room doors and a bit more freedom within the facility on the Recovery Wings,” according to its website. The center currently allows half-hour outdoor visits with family members.
Dr. Mohammad said he put together a webinar for residents of active adult and congregate housing, encouraging them to avoid social gatherings and adhere to social distancing guidelines. He thinks that the information, coupled with the cooperation of people who live there, helped keep the infection rate in check.
The experience of the past three months has shown the value of the local health departments in this state, Dr. Muhammad said, referring to efforts to merge health departments to create efficiencies. “That is why we cannot eliminate the public health infrastructure,” he said, adding that local health departments are best suited to react to the need of the community. “Given the cooperative approach, we didn’t do that bad,” he said.
By June 19, there were about 2 cases in Orange, and the Governor’s opening plan had moved to stage 2, allowing limited indoor food service, gyms and libraries to open. But all activities come with a set of restrictions in order to allow people to keep their distance, wear masks and keep fresh air circulating. Driving schools, for example, can offer lessons as long as both the student and the teacher wear masks, and the windows are rolled down to allow air circulation.
People are encouraged to keep social distancing in elevators and avoid them altogether if possible. Plexiglass partitions are now ubiquitous, to help keep droplets from traveling.
Planning an event? Starting with Phase 3 of the Governor’s re-opening plan in mid-July, indoor private gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, and outdoor events of up to 250. Currently, those caps are at 25 people indoors and 100 outdoors. Private events may include political fundraisers as well as birthday parties and other celebrations in people’s homes and backyards. Dr. Mohammad recommends residents who plan these events to be in touch with his office to learn about ways to keep everyone safe. “I encourage them to be in touch,” he said. “It’s a free service.” The phone number is (203) 891-4733.
Day camp: Orange Recreation was scheduled to start its popular summer camp this week and continue with four two-week sessions. Camp is from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day at High Plains Community Center. There will be an open swim period at the indoor pool and campers must bring a bagged lunch. Campers must wear a mask, and will have a health check every morning. They will be assigned to a group of eight, with siblings in the same group, regardless of age. Each group will have an assigned table and assigned room. There will be no Travelin’ Teens this year.
Library to gradually reopen: Case Memorial Library is carefully ramping up its system of book and other media lending, with a curbside pickup service starting in July, maybe even the week before.
Patrons can call in or put an item on hold, and the item will then be placed in a bag and be ready for pickup between doors in the foyer, said Library Director Kathy Giotsas. Patrons will have to make an appointment to get a time slot for the pickup. This service is for Orange residents only.
Once the library staff have all the safety protocols in place, including sanitizing wipes and personal protective equipment, the library will open the building by appointment only, with a limit of half capacity, Giotsas said. Even then patrons will be asked not to linger or socialize, in order to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
The children’s department will also look different once it re-opens. The toys and the train set have been removed, as has the puppet theater. Like the adults, families will be asked not to linger. And, like the rest of the building, there will be a cap on the number of people admitted to the children’s library at any given time.
Giotsas said the library book drop was open throughout the lock-down, and library staff removed the returned items and “quarantined” books for 48 hours before they go back on the shelf.
The library has directed more money into online resources, namely e-books, magazines and audio books, that are available for patrons. Giotsas said even when an item shows 50 patrons on the waiting list, people should not hesitate to add their name, as they typically move quickly.
Programming has been on hold, Giotsas said. They are considering holding book discussion groups on Zoom, but “people will need the books,” she said. “We have so many avid readers,” she said. “I really can’t wait for this whole thing to be over.”
School buildings closed: School buildings continue to be closed, and for kids enrolled in summer school that means continued distance learning.
Playgrounds are open for the community to enjoy while school is not in session. Social distancing rules still apply though.
As of press time, no plans had been publicized regarding the re-opening of schools in the fall. Districts are waiting for guidance from the state Department of Education.
Senior Center: For the time being all in-person programs continue to be suspended. However, Senior Services Coordinator Dennis Marsh has organized some online activities that seniors can plug into. YouTube videos with Suzanne Anderson and Rae Maclellan offer chair exercises; also, how to make your own face mask and Zen doodle sessions. On Zoom, people can participate in a virtual yoga class with Andrea Cashman, or virtual tai chi with David Chandler or virtual Zumba Gold with Danielle Petitt. To participate in a Zoom class, sign up with the senior center. They will email you a link to the class.
In lieu of the hot lunch program, seniors can order frozen lunch trays either for pickup or delivery. To sign up, contact the senior center at (203) 891-4789.
People interested in online grocery shopping can watch a YouTube video at: https://youtu.be/fWUN7ILGwRM to learn how.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent