East Hampton Town’s essential services are functioning, despite mandates to reduce staffing and implement the social distancing practices critical to controlling the now-explosive growth in COVID-19 infections in the tristate area.
In a release yesterday, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc stated that, "As testing for the coronavirus has been limited, we must assume that the infection is much more widespread than has been confirmed so far. The safest course of action is to assume that you, and others you may come into contact with, may have the virus, and to stay away from others."
"Because of this," he continued, "staffing levels at East Hampton Town departments continue to be reduced, in some cases potentially to an all-remote workforce, while maintaining the minimum services necessary for town government to function."
Nonessential town government offices are closed to the public until further notice. Those offices are operating with as few employees as practical, not to exceed 50 percent of their staff.
Departments deemed essential under emergency order — police, public safety, emergency preparedness, sanitation, highway, human services, buildings and grounds, information technology, tax receiver, and the town clerk — are not subject to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive to reduce staff by at least 50 percent.
On Monday, in a memo to town employees, the supervisor detailed procedures for operations during the health emergency. Every department continues to function at staff levels deemed necessary by the department heads to perform essential functions, with at least one member available during business hours to answer phones and respond to the public. Department heads are setting staffing schedules and have been directed to rotate those assigned to the office if possible. The information technology department is assisting with call forwarding so calls can be answered remotely.
Town employees can work from home if it is feasible, or in their offices at minimum levels. Laptop computers have been issued as requested by department heads to enable staff to work from home.
"We have reduced our staff to keep it to a minimum in the office," said Ann Glennon, who heads the Building Department and is the town’s chief building inspector. Personnel have been told to remain six feet apart.
Members of the public, prohibited from entering the building, must use a drop box to leave documents.
Staffers are conducting inspections, Ms. Glennon said, but are calling ahead and asking that only one person be at the site. "Keeping distance, watching to make sure there are not a lot of contractors on a job," Ms. Glennon said of her department’s new practice. "We’re doing the best we can."
Building Department employees "have been really good," she said. Some clerical workers take work home with them, and some staffers have volunteered to come to the office, "but we are trying to go by the guidelines. My inspectors have been great."
Her staff has been empowered to reschedule inspections if they are not comfortable in a situation. "Everybody seems okay with it. They do understand that no one is required to go into any situation that’s not a good one."
"We have split the crews so that not everyone is working at the same time," said Town Highway Superintendent Stephen Lynch. Half his crew is working from Tuesday through tomorrow this week. The department will then close for three days, and the other half will work on the same days next week. Office staff is alternating days. "This way, if anyone on either crew gets sick we are still able to operate with the other half of the crew."
The Highway Department is focusing on the town’s most-used roadways, Mr. Lynch said, "to ensure that they are safe for our first responders, who are much needed at this time, as well as the public."
Sanitation employees, whom Mr. Lynch also supervises, are alternating days and working three days per week instead of the usual four. Employees of both the highway and sanitation departments are sanitizing work spaces and vehicles between shifts, Mr. Lynch said.
The town’s senior citizens center on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton closed on March 11, but the Human Services Department is operating there on weekdays. Staff members are contacting seniors who use town programs and residents who are on the town’s special needs and emergency services lists. The former include those using a wheelchair or needing oxygen or dialysis equipment, for example; the latter, residents who have asked to be monitored during an emergency. More than 500 residents are contacted by telephone every other day, according to a statement from Town Hall on Saturday.
Since Monday, those 60 and over can call ahead to pick up five frozen meals at the senior citizens center, or human services staff will take the meals to their homes.
Town-issued permits due to expire in the coming weeks will remain valid until further notice. Permit holders will be required to renew permits once the town government resumes normal operations.