In response to the public health threat of COVID-19, the governor of the State of Connecticut, the President of the United States, and mayors throughout the country have declared states of emergency to protect public health and slow the spread of the disease.
Local mayors and first selectmen response in Connecticut have included closing city halls to the public, requiring the public to contact the city online, by phone, and by depositing material in city mailboxes. Furthermore, many, including the mayors of New Haven and Hartford, also allowed where ever possible for city employees to work from home. The work from home has now become a nationwide phenomenon enabling to keep social distance and isolation, enhancing employees’ safety, and slowing down the spread of the coronavirus while keeping the businesses of government and private businesses going on.
However, there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. In the city of New Britain, Mayor Erin Stewart has refused to allow city employees to work outside of city hall.
While taking some measures to prevent the public for entering all parts of the city hall building, all city employees, regardless of risk, are required to physically show up to city hall. The democratic side of the city council has attempted to persuade the mayor to allow city employees to work from home but to no avail. A resolution encouraging the mayor to allow city employees to work from home and to work out any impediments is currently being blocked by the Republican majority on New Britain city council.
The mayor argues that the city would lose control over its employees if they are allowed to work from home and the union contracts forbid employees from working away from city hall.
However, in a recent appearance in NPR’s “Where We Live” program, Mayor Justin Elicker of New Haven indicated that his administration was able to work with the union to overcome such obstacles.
As the number of confirmed cases of coronaviruses in Connecticut is spiraling to new heights, (just between April 3 and 4 the numbers of cases went up by 1,000 and the number of deaths has risen by 19 including also 48 new cases in New Britain alone) it’s incumbent on every town and city in Connecticut to take the most extreme measures to maintain social distance and isolation as much as possible while retooling city employees with the technology needed to do their work from home. Anything less is unacceptable as this is a matter of life or death.
Aram Ayalon is a New Britain Alderman.