Outdoor dining debuts in Chesprocott health District; summer camps, contact tracing, Phase II reopening on Chesprocott's COVID-19 agenda
By Dan Nowak
CDTC Communications Staff
CHESHIRE—Each week the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a different, unique challenge for the staff at Chesprocott Health District, which serves Cheshire Wolcott and Prospect.
Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, the big challenge was the debut of the Phase I reopening of Connecticut on Wednesday including the addition of outdoor dining for restaurants who wanted to apply for it.
Susan Lonczak, the chief sanitarian for Chesprocott, said from a health perspective the first few days outdoor dining went well.
“Going into the reopening on Wednesday we worked with all three towns,” Lonczak said. “A lot of establishments added outdoor seating and everyone is doing their part to do the right thing. We went out to verify they were all complying with state and local guidelines including social distancing with tables six feet apart.
“Before they opened on Wednesday, I was moving tables at a few places to make sure that six-foot requirement was met. Members of our Chesprocott staff will continue to visit establishments to make sure they are complying with all the guidelines. Everyone running these establishments are happy to be open and there has been great conversation and communication between us to get the outdoor dining going.”
Lonczak said in Cheshire Viron Rondo Osteria, he Victorian House, Blackies, Main St. Café and Pops Pizza are all offering outdoor dining.
Prospect has four restaurants offering outdoor dining and Wolcott has eight places that have added outdoor seating.
Some of the establishments in Wolcott have set up outdoor seating in their parking lots. Lonczak said due to safety concerns the town has provided jersey barriers around the seating areas to ensure incoming or outgoing traffic in the parking lots stays away from the eating areas.
Lonczak said many restaurants decided it wasn’t in the best interest at this time to offer outdoor dining.
“I had a lot of dialogue with the restaurants in the area,”Lonczak said. “A lot of the restaurants did not want to have outdoor dining because it wasn’t cost-effective. It was overwhelming for some of them to have to go through the process of offering outdoor dining. They decided to save themselves the hassle of going through that and are still just offering takeout.
“Some of the restaurant owners are taking a wait-and-see approach. They are waiting to see if people are actually going to go out and eat. I will say the outdoor dining patios I have been to were all hopping and busy with customers."
Lonczak said the concern at Chesprocott with the reopening is that people might start getting complacent with COVID-19 guidelines, especially at the outdoor dining areas.
“We worry that outdoor dining customers will be less cautious in that outdoor setting,” Lonczak said. "We don’t want people to forget we still have guidelines in place and things we need to do to be safe. We need to maintain social distancing and we need to wear masks.
“What we did to help outdoor dining customers is we provided signage to help with guidelines and information. We provided the restaurant owners with strategies on how to politely talk to someone if they aren’t wearing a mask. There is a lot on restaurant owners to police it."
One of the items on the signage that Chesprocott provided to restaurants offering outdoor dining is a 211 number to call for COVID-19-related complaints if customers see restaurants aren’t complying with state guidelines. Are all restaurant employees and customers wearing masks? Are employees sterilizing tables and chairs when patrons leave? Are restrooms being cleaned and sanitized?
Chesprocott Health Director Maura Esposito said it is inevitable complaints from the public will be made.
“If the public see state violations or local violations at outdoor dining areas, they should call 211 and make a complaint,” Esposito said. “Those calls go to law enforcement and each town has a municipal designee for this. (Cheshire police chief) Neil Dryfe is the municipal designee in Cheshire. In Prospect it’s the police shift commander."
Esposito said if the public sees something, they should say something.
“If the restaurants with outdoor dining aren’t sanitizing equipment, if they aren’t providing employees with the proper PPE, if they aren’t enforcing the wearing of masks or social distancing, the public and restaurant employees should call 211,” Esposito said. “While the calls go to law enforcement, at Chesprocott we’re sure people will be calling us to make a complaint instead of calling 211.
“In about two weeks, with more people likely going to restaurants, we’re probably going to be deluged with calls here at Chesprocott. But the thing is, if the public sees something they should say something and call 211. I hope we don’t get a lot of complaints because that would mean restaurants are complying with the rules."
Here are some other brief notes from the staff at Chesprocott Health District.
Mixville Park wasn’t allowed to open for Memorial Day weekend for swimming in Cheshire and it wasn’t due to anything relating to COVID-19. The typical testing each year for bacteria in the water hasn’t been done yet and swimming won’t be allowed until that is done.
One of the COVID-related agendas in towns statewide is how to open summer camps. While Gov. Ned Lamont’s guidelines prohibit overnight camps this summer, day camps will be permitted.
Esposito said there have been ongoing discussions with officials in all three towns to come up with the best game plan for each town and summer camp site.
“Meeting the state guidelines for summer camps is challenging and we’ve had long discussions with government officials in all three towns,” Esposito said. “How do you handle social distancing? What if there is bad weather and it starts to rain? Normally you would have all the kids maybe run under a tent or in a pavilion area, but how do you do that and do social distancing?
“A place like Holiday Hill offered transportation to camps in the past but ceased to offer that this summer. Now, parents must find a way to get kids there. There are so many things to consider and we’re still trying to get it all figured out."
Chesprocott continues to get a truckload of PPE each week.
Esposito said there still are some issues to deal with statewide regarding the implementation of contact tracing, including training from the state to get it done.
In addition to everything else on their plate, Esposito and her staff at Chesprocott are gearing up for the governor’s Phase II of reopening on June 20. It includes the possibility of indoor dining returning to restaurants.
“I have a hard-working, dedicated staff here at Chesprocott and they have been exceptional through all of this,” Esposito said. “We all have very full plates, we are all being pulled in so many different directions and that isn’t the norm for us.
“We’re a little ragged but we’re still plugging away. The most important thing for all of us at Chesprocott is that all the residents in our three towns are safe. We’re busy, but the safety of our residents is our No. 1 priority and always will be.”
Dan Nowak is chairman of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee's Communication Relations/IT Committee, a volunteer position. He is a Cheshire Parks and Recreation Commissioner and has been a sportswriter at the New Haven Register for 36 years.