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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — In a unanimous vote Monday night at the Beechwood Senior Center, the North Kingstown Town Council voted to authorize Town Manager Ralph Mollis’s administrative order declaring a state of emergency in North Kingstown effective immediately through April 8 regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and following similar declarations by both the state and federal government. 

The declaration follows many of the guidelines set forth by Gov. Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Health in their March 9 declaration and daily updates, including backing the decision to bar on-premise consumption of food and alcohol through March 30 and limiting public gatherings to 25 people or less, in addition to canceling all entertainment licenses and special event permits for events taking place in town through April 8 and canceling and rescheduling all non-essential town meetings, as deemed so by the Town Council, through that date as well.

In addition, the Beechwood Senior Center has been closed for all senior-related activities while the town has set up a hotline for citizens to volunteer to provide services for the elderly and senior citizens to inform the town of what they’re in need of, including food and pharmaceuticals among other things, all of which can be found on the town’s website as part of the COVID-19 Info Page, which a link appears for at the top of the home page. 

The meeting was sparsely attended, with the Town Council putting out a request earlier in the week encouraging residents to stay at home and watch the live stream of the meeting. The four members of the Town Council present, as Councilor Kerry McKay was unable to attend, sat separated by at least six feet, the encouraged distance in order to stop the further spread or potential exposure of the virus. 

The North Kingstown School District, which along with the rest of the districts in the state moved up its previously scheduled April vacation week to this week, is providing free breakfast and lunch to residents from the ages of 1-18 Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Wilson Park and from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. at McGinn Park.

The district is also working on creating remote learning programs for students to be able to learn from home as per Raimondo, according to Superintendent Phil Auger, who spoke briefly before the declaration alongside School Committee President Gregory Blasbalg, adding that it is still unknown when students will be able to return to the classroom. He praised the work between his staff, the teacher’s union and support staff unions in coming together to figure out how to best serve students during this time.

All communications from Auger will be available on the district website, nksd.net, similarly to those on the town website, and he encouraged residents to download the NKSD app to receive the latest updates on their phones as notifications.

As per the declaration, the town also is closing all of its public restrooms while discouraging residents from using public playgrounds and encouraging health clubs to consider closing for the duration of the state of emergency.

Mollis, who needed the approval of the Town Council to proceed with the declaration, said he has been in regular contact with local, state and federal government organizations for updates regarding the pandemic.

“I have had daily calls scheduled with the Governor’s Office, Department of Health, Rhode Island EMA and other state agencies,” Mollis said. “We’ve had daily calls with mayors and managers via the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. We’ve had weekly updates with the Rhode Island Department of Health and I’ve had weekly calls with the White House.”

Mollis praised the work of all town officials in coming together to address the issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“North Kingstown has a lot to be proud of when you look at the job they’ve done over the last 48 hours,” Mollis said. “I can’t say enough about the cooperation and dedication of the department heads and the employees that we have working here in North Kingstown.”

Councilor Stacey Elliott said she had been in contact with the North Kingstown Food Pantry, adding that the organization would remain open during the pandemic and encouraged residents in need and those who can donate to reach out to them.

Town Council President Greg Mancini, who sat in on many of the phone calls with Mollis, praised the efforts of both Mollis and Raimondo, encouraging the town to make any changes necessary to the declaration in order to stay in line with the response from the state.

“I also want the citizens of our community to know that not only has the governor demonstrated true leadership, but our town manager has too,” Mancini said. “He has been working on call 24/7 and he certainly has your best interests at heart and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. These are very difficult times, they’re not going to get easier (for a while).”

The council voted 4-0 to approve the measure, which took place immediately and stands through April 8, with the town given the ability to make changes to the declaration through subsequent declarations depending on changes to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state and nation as a whole. 

The town budget meetings and other department meetings have been pushed back to a date to be determined after April 8, which will be the date of the next scheduled Town Council meeting.

Other business of the evening went through relatively quick and with little opposition, as all measures passed unanimously or were tabled to the April 8 meeting. 

For more information on the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the state of emergency, visit the town’s website, northkingstown.org, and click on the COVID-19 Info Page link at the top of the homepage. All information regarding the school district can be found by visiting nksd.net, where the latest updates will appear as soon as the website is accessed.

The Rhode Island Department of Health has also set up a COVID-19 hotline for general questions from the public regarding the virus, with the number being (401) 222-8022.

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