Schirin Rangnick

At his first daily COVID-19 update on the steps of City Hall on Monday, Mayor Justin Elicker implored New Haveners to heed official guidelines, addressed his recent emergency order closing child care centers and spoke of still-developing measures to senior citizens and homeless individuals.

Elicker’s most recent emergency order closes all child care providers that service more than 12 children, with exceptions for children of health care workers. This move is the latest in a rapidly escalating series of steps designed to combat the spread of COVID-19. New Haven’s public schools moved to remote instruction on Friday. On Saturday, Elicker encouraged faith leaders to conduct services remotely. New Haven restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms will shut down starting Monday, in keeping with orders from Gov. Ned Lamont issued Monday morning. The Elicker administration is now turning its attention to senior and homeless populations and developing strategies for social distancing. As for the public at large, Elicker has clear instructions: Stay home.

“Do you know 100 people?” he asked at Monday’s press conference. “Do you want three of those people to die?”

While Elicker’s decisions align with intensifying national guidelines, they have not been met without criticism. The Rev. Kelcy Steele of Varick AME Zion Church said in a Facebook post that Elicker’s child care emergency order exacerbates existing structural economic inequality in the Elm City. When asked about Steele’s criticism, Elicker on Monday said that there are no good answers, but that economic pain now will reduce pain in the future.

He acknowledged that membership payments for in-person services help churches cover rent and that much of the conversation surrounding small businesses has focused on retailers, not faith organizations. He encouraged residents to attend online services and make donations when they can.

Over the weekend, many of New Haven’s faith organizations transitioned to remote services, but some hosted gatherings of over 100 people, according to the New Haven Independent. Steele said that Varick AME’s three Sunday services each drew crowds of about 125 people. Other congregations saw drops in attendance, although figures still surpassed 100 attendees, and moved to larger rooms to enable social distancing.

At Monday’s press conference, Elicker acknowledged that faith organizations provide a range of services to New Haveners — religious and otherwise — and expressed his sympathy for their new plight.

In the coming days, the Elicker administration is turning its attention to seniors and homeless individuals. Elicker ordered all senior centers, along with schools and libraries, to close starting last Friday. New Haven’s senior population is now his biggest concern, he said on Monday.

Last week, city officials began conference calls with nursing homes and senior centers to develop plans to address the spread of COVID-19 and protect some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. On Monday, public health nurses — who normally would be staffing schools — met with New Haven Director of Health Maritza Bond to develop technical support materials for nursing home operators. Health officials will be working with nursing homes on an individual basis.

“Our team is working feverishly to ensure that we can as best as possible protect people in those situations and support individuals that are running these facilities,” Elicker said on Monday.

City officials are also working to develop plans for homeless individuals, both for social distancing and self-isolation in the event of a positive COVID-19 test. Homeless shelters are still up and running, but close quarters pose challenges for social distancing. The city is working on decompression tactics, but Elicker said that determining an appropriate strategy is very challenging.

Self-isolation also poses a problem for homeless individuals. Currently, those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not exhibit serious symptoms that merit hospitalization are asked to self-isolate at home — an impossible task for those without a home to which to return. Elicker said that the city is having routine conference calls with city partners to find self-isolation options.

At Monday’s press conference, Elicker also touched on emergency food provision. The city’s soup kitchens and other providers have transitioned away from in-house food services in favor of food distribution sites. Sunrise Cafe, which offers restaurant-style breakfast services to over 150 individuals, set up a tent with breakfast items beginning last Thursday and plans to continue grab-and-go services for the foreseeable future, according to the New Haven Independent.

Given that soup kitchens also previously provided many homeless individuals’ only reliable restrooms, Elicker said on Monday that his administration is looking into putting port-a-potties near food distribution sites.

Mackenzie Hawkins | mackenzie.hawkins@yale.edu