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Easthampton Mayor: Reopening Plan Relies On Public Trust, Health Metrics

Reactions continue to Governor Charlie Baker's plan to reopen the Massachusetts economy in the midst of the virus pandemic. It was based on recommendations by a 17-member advisory board.

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle was one of just two members from western Massachusetts. But LaChapelle said the panel was sensitive to regional concerns.

Nicole LaChapelle, Easthampton mayor: I think we worked really well together to get into that report what works for western Mass. I think you see the industry guidelines provide a lot of direction to industries by the industry that they identify with, but also respect to what's happening geographically, and what they're going to be able to do to pivot their business — and their business model — to operate during a pandemic and post-pandemic.

Kari Njiiri, NEPR: The governor sort of outlined a four-phased approach to reopening. And the first phase involves mostly manufacturing and rather large businesses that perhaps could have more employees working from home. How does this affect folks in western Massachusetts?

So I think it gives us time. The phase one industries that are open have been open, at least... a little bit, whether that's remote working, whether that is, again, manufacturing that has pivoted to making PPEs [Personal Protection Equipment]. Those folks have been operating in some capacity, and to move rather quickly to be ready for a new set of safety standards is, I think, just an easier lift for them.

A photo posted to Facebook by Easthampton, Massachusetts, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, giving blood.
Credit Facebook
A photo posted to Facebook by Easthampton, Massachusetts, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, giving blood.

Regardless of where you are in the state, no one wants to — and it was a really key part of the advisory board — we all felt nobody should feel compelled to open as soon as they could for their business model without being properly prepared.

This plan, when it comes down to it, really is two-pronged, right? It fails if it, one, does not keep the public safe and we lose public trust. And more importantly, that trust is built by this plan being gated by public health measures.

And so when you're looking at those smaller businesses that can kind of pick up again on the 25th [of May] in retail, in one-on-one hair appointments, pet groomers, you start to see our path forward out here in western Mass. But, you know, we also have the MassMutual campus in Springfield, right? And everyone's working remotely [there] for the foreseeable future.

Some legislators and labor and faith leaders have criticized the makeup of the panel for what they see as a lack of representation of essential workers. What's your response to that?

So, we heard presentations from so many groups and not just industry groups, not just trade associations, but unions as well as faith leaders, the NAACP. I do believe that their voices were well represented in the presentation.

Am I concerned about essential workers? Yes. Do I understand more than ever that those essential workers are, a lot of times, in the most vulnerable places, situations of our society? I do. And I will expect that the board's advisories around health metrics and closing down a specific segment of a business or a hot spot will be done quickly for the protection of those workers.

I mean, if nothing else from all of this horribleness, we see that the divides in our community get even deeper when you're facing such an insidious event.

Kari is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of Jazz Safari, a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. Born in New York City, and raised in both Kenya and the U.S., Kari first arrived at NEPM as a UMass Amherst student fascinated by radio's ability to cross geographic and cultural boundaries. Since then, he has worked in several capacities at the station, from board operator and book-keeper, to production assistant and local host of NPR’s All Things Considered.
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