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Closing time: Town does its part to slow the spread of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered people’s day-to-day lives as countries, states, and towns scramble to slow its spread. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker issued executive orders to close schools, ban gatherings of more than 25 people, and ban consumption in any establishment that offers food or drink. Those orders are in effect through April 5.

The town has responded to Baker’s orders by closing town buildings to the public effective March 17 and moving all public meetings to virtual meetings starting March 23. The Public Safety Building will remain open and keep its regular hours. Staff at all public buildings, including Hildreth House, will be available by phone and email. The town has posted directions for conducting various types of business with departments at Town Hall on its website.

Town Administrator Tim Bragan told the Select Board at its March 17 meeting that, to date, no Harvard residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Statewide, the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 218 on March 17; eight of those were in Worcester County.

Despite the absence of reported cases in Harvard so far, the board voted to declare a state of emergency so the town will be able to act quickly if needed. Both Bragan and board members emphasized that the public should not panic as there is no current emergency in Harvard; the measure was purely precautionary. The board also voted to move Town Caucus and Town Election to late spring and voted to join the other five towns of the 37th Middlesex District in asking for a delay in the March 31 special election for state Rep. Jennifer Benson’s seat. (See “Town declares emergency,” page 1.)

Although schools are closed, Superintendent Linda Dwight notified parents that plans for distance learning would soon be available (see “Schools prepare for three-week shutdown”). Playing fields in Harvard are also closed until further notice, and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletics Association (MIAA) has postponed the start of spring season until at least March 30.

The Transfer Station remains open, but residents are asked to keep at least 6 feet apart, drop their trash and recyclables in the bins, and leave. The “take it or leave it” section is closed, and punch card items will not be accepted. Town officials are working on a policy for extending card expirations. Fundraising, campaigning, and other gatherings at the Transfer Station are temporarily prohibited.

COA lunches, library plans

Although Hildreth House is closed, staff is available by phone and email. The Council on Aging (COA) will provide delivery of prepackaged lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays to any senior in town who signs up for lunch delivery while the building is closed. Seniors can call the COA at 978-456-4120 to put their names on the list. Deliveries will be placed outside the door; there will be no contact between the delivery person and the recipient. COA vans will continue to offer rides for medical appointments and grocery shopping, and Meals on Wheels will continue to be delivered.

The Harvard Public Library asks that residents not return items while the library is closed. All items that were recently checked out will be renewed automatically, and all fines for overdue items will be waived. Library staff will be present to answer reference questions and other queries by email or telephone. The library has a variety of online resources for both adults and children, including eBooks and eAudiobooks. It has also created virtual versions of some children’s programs, including the Lego Expo and the Edible Books Contest.

General Store

The General Store is open, but it has reduced its hours to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Kitchen hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On-site seating areas are closed, and all food and drink orders must be placed to go. Customers may order breakfast and lunch items online. Those items, along with coffee drinks, baked goods, pantry goods, beer and wine, fresh food to go, or cold beverages, may be ordered by phone. The store prefers phoned-in and online orders to be picked up curbside; parking spaces directly in front of the store are reserved for curbside pickup only. Call 978-430-0062 to place an order and arrange a pickup time. For details see https://www.harvardgeneral store.com/service-announcements.

St. Theresa’s Catholic Church has canceled Mass on Sundays, weekdays, and Holy Days of Obligation until further notice. Worship services and programs at the Harvard Unitarian Church are canceled until further notice. Virtual services are scheduled to begin March 22. The Congregational Church of Harvard has canceled services on March 22 and 29.

Fivesparks and Fruitlands Museum are closed until at least the end of March, but the grounds at Fruitlands remain open. Dunkin’ Donuts service is drive-through and takeout only, and no mug refills are allowed. Its hours are reduced to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sorrento’s Pizzeria hours are unchanged, but service is takeout only; online ordering is available. Siam Pepper is open for takeout only; DoorDash delivery is available.

Both Rollstone and Middlesex Savings banks have closed their lobbies; service is available at the drive-through windows. Middlesex Savings has closed its branches that do not have drive-through service. Both banks are asking customers to call for an appointment to access safety deposit boxes or conduct in-bank transactions.

Reddy Family Dental in Harvard has closed until April 6. Acton Medical has designated its Harvard and Littleton offices for well visits only; the Acton office is triaging all patients who are ill by phone, and it is reporting long wait times for that process. Walk-in patients will not be accepted.

The Harvard Press

The Press is keeping an up-to-date list of closings, postponements, and cancellations, as well as other pertinent town news on its website. The list is currently updated daily. Please send additions, updates, and corrections to editor@harvardpress.net. For updates on scheduled happenings around town, go to the Harvard Press’s Current Events page at www.harvardpress.com/Happenings/Current-Events.

All town announcements will be posted on the town website. Questions regarding town operations during the COVID-19 emergency may be emailed to asktheTA@Harvard.ma.us. The town website also has a COVID-19 page with various updates from the town administrator at www.harvard.ma.us/home/news/coronavirus-covid-19. The Board of Health has also compiled a list of frequently asked questions.

Town officials ask that everyone register for MyConnect on the town website to receive townwide announcements as either a phone call, email, or text message. To sign up, click the “One-Step Notification Sign Up Now” button on the town website home page.

Up-to-date information on COVID-19 is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov and at mass.gov/resource/information-on-the-outbreak-of-corona virus-disease-2019-covid-19. Daily up--dates on the number of cases in Massachusetts by county are also available on that site. The nonprofit mass211.org provides free, confidential information in several languages, both on its website and for callers who dial 211; callers may experience delays because of the high volume of calls.

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