City focus starts to shift to reopening

Jim Wiggs, director of the Westfield Emergency Management Agency. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – At the May 6 Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting, Emergency Management Director Jim Wiggs said that the Emergency Operations Center that he has been running in a conference room at the 179 Apremont Way facility will probably start to wind down.

“My phone now is not ringing anywhere near when we were in the heat of things,” he said.

Wiggs said he has been handling the operational supply side of the city’s response to the pandemic, currently working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to get supplies to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He said if the Governor lifts the ban on May 18, that Friday the city will begin to focus more on financial recovery.

“I’ll start scaling back my hours, but still check in with the police and fire departments,” he said. “We’ll know more over the next 10 to 12 days,” Wiggs said.

Wiggs said the city is not positioned to give every resident a mask, but they are positioned to give masks and gloves to first responders, and just placed an order to resupply.

“We’re not burning through stuff like we were in the beginning,” he said, adding that the supply chain from MEMA may also start to dry up.

Wiggs said the federal government and state may soon lift the emergency declaration and he will shift his focus to working with various city departments to plan for reopening.

Community Development Director Peter J. Miller said he will be working as a communications conduit for businesses to assist them in the reopening, he added that the Board of Health will remain the lead and the authority for the city.

“[Board of Health Director] Joe Rouse has been pretty consistent. We can’t become complacent,” Miller said, adding, “I would expect to assist them with communicating with the business community as questions come in.”

Currently, Miller is busy helping small businesses to access Community Development Block Grant emergency grant funds. Westfield was recently granted $216,737 in CDBG emergency funds through the CARES Act for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown.

Miller said he has received 30 applications, has granted six contracts so far, and expects to send out another 12 or 14 this week. He said there is still another $60,000 to fund additional applications, and grants can range from $2,500 to $10,000.

“We’re looking to fund operational expenses, due to (having) no customers,” Miller said.

Asked how the small businesses in town are faring, Miller said for the most part, small business owners are “a pretty tough stock that have built their businesses on their own, and are not willing to give it up without a fight.”

“Sadly, we have heard of a few (who have said) it’s time to try something different. For them, the shutdown was the final straw,” Miller said.

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