Winchester town manager reflects on 12 months of battling COVID
Lisa Wong, Winchester City Manager, admits she hasn’t had time to edit these in the past 12 months. Nobody bothered to ask them.
Answering questions about Zoom on March 10, the year Governor Charlie Baker first announced the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one could see the emotional strain on her face. She thought of colleagues who contracted the virus and recovered, and shared the lingering effects.
But there was someone who didn’t. Dennis Slater, a 50-year-old Winchester resident and city worker, died of COVID on January 23.
“He came in every day during the pandemic. He could do his job in a socially distant way, ”she said. “He was a colleague of the people for more than 20 years. It was an integral part not only in the town hall, but also in the city. I’ve been here for a little over two years, but the devastation of signing your colleague COVID and then dying just weeks later is severe. There is definitely an emotional toll that people face. “
Below are more of Wong’s thoughts on how she led the city through the pandemic.
Which choices were the right choices?
I think setting up a good communication plan, a communication system both formal and informal. We pushed teamwork in the city through regular meetings, especially through the lens of emergency management. First, get people talking every day and bring each other up to date. Then it didn’t have to be daily because everyone knew what everyone was doing. The schools have pushed ahead with their emergency meetings. DPW too. Everyone had an understanding of what everyone else was seeing and doing. And because of that, the response was really much more coordinated. This resulted in a much better distribution of resources in terms of who had to go where and when.
There was also a very good level of trust that we shared with our health department. We listened (director Jennifer Murphy) as she told us about all the precautions that needed to be taken. There were many standard operating procedures that were implemented very quickly.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Probably. We tried to set up a remote work policy as we never had a remote work policy. When the nature of the pandemic made remote work mandatory, it was first a very shabby approach to public health, and then it became a shared approach between myself and the managers, with an individual plan developed for each department.
I’ve been thinking about guidelines that would have been good a year ago. We use (these) now. One reason it’s bittersweet is because you’ll never have to use a directive like this again. You don’t want another policy for another pandemic. One of the things we’re working on right now is whether there will be a resurgence. Will there be another pandemic? Or things like a remote work policy. That doesn’t mean people can work remotely. It means that there are circumstances for which it makes sense.
How would you rate your COVID response?
I definitely can’t answer just by myself because I can’t think of many things that I could do without the help of other people. Things are done through teamwork in cities, especially cities like Winchester. In terms of handling and communication standpoint, I’d say we did pretty well. I’ll say we did pretty well too, based on our ability to react quickly.
I would say areas that I heard the most criticism about were the lack of consistent testing from the start, although that would have required a significant investment of dollars. I don’t think I regret this, but I know this is a major source of criticism that I have received.
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