Already a close-knit community, people in the town of Washington are now taking steps to shelter in place after a resident recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“We felt that given the potential with the known exposure in our town, we thought the safest thing was to ask all residents to shelter in place and avoid all social gatherings,” said Jed Schwartz, the chairman of the town’s board of selectmen.
Though state officials have been in contact with people in town who are confirmed to have come into contact with the patient, Schwartz said there’s still a lot of exposure possible in a small town with one general store and a few farm stands.
“We couldn’t really track where this person had been or who they had been with,” Schwartz said.
Town officials in the community of 1,200 people were notified Monday that the resident, who had recently been rushed to the hospital, had tested positive. Schwartz was unable to discuss the identity of the patient.
Selectmen decided to take an extraordinary precaution by strongly advising all residents to shelter in place, meaning they should stay home and only go out for essential trips for supplies or to work, Schwartz said.
Even as an advisory, it’s the toughest measure taken in the state.
Gov. Chris Sununu banned gatherings of more than 10 people this week, but the state has not issued a shelter in place advisory or order.
Even though it’s an advisory and not an order from selectmen, Schwartz said most people in town are taking it seriously.
Ryan Curran, the owner of the Washington General Store, has been taking orders from residents over the phone and getting supplies delivered or ready for pick up at his store. He’s shut down public access to his store, and that means he’s had to close the lunch and breakfast counter.
“A lot of people come in for breakfast, or they like to come in and have coffee with us,” Curran said.
Curran feels bad for some of his elderly customers, for whom meals at his shop were a daily ritual. One man in his 80s has been having breakfast every day at the store for decades.
“He’s been coming into the store almost 20 years and having the same breakfast,” Curran said.
Though Curran has been able to get the man his breakfast delivered to him, he knows the experience isn’t the same. Curran said the store is going to keep getting groceries to people, but he’s been running into trouble getting resupplied.
“It’s a little difficult. We usually order once a week from our distributor in Vermont. Hamburger and hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies are hard to get for us,” Curran said.
The shelter in place initiative will last for at least a couple of weeks. Schwartz said people in town know how quickly an illness can move through a small population. In November, the school board shut down the Washington Elementary School when a bad case of the flu kept students and teachers home. The building was emptied to give people a chance to recover and the school district had the facilities cleaned and sanitized.