WESTFIELD – “As a new mayor, or as a mayor in general, the lesson I learned was trust your team even if nobody knows what the right answer is,” said Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr.
This past week marked a year under the COVID-19 pandemic, and Humason’s first in his new role as mayor.
“When I ran for office, I ran to handle the budget and potholes. Instead, I had to deal with closing City Hall, closing the city, shutting restaurants down,” he said, adding that his way of handling the crisis was to rely on the team at City Hall; the emergency response and public health director, the police and fire departments, the legal team and community development, the superintendent and the School Committee.
Humason said information changed not just daily but hourly, as did guidance coming in from the governor, Centers for Disease Control and the president.
“I feel like we did a pretty good job considering nobody had dealt with this thing for 90 years, and there was no playbook to follow. There was no contingency plan for an overall global pandemic that impacted not just Massachusetts, not just the northeast, not just the country, but the entire world,” he said, adding that the job was to keep city employees, teachers and residents safe.
State Rep. Kelly Pease reflected on the 105 people that the City of Westfield lost to COVID-19, and the many family members who could not be there with their loved ones who were sick.
“There needs to be a better system to allow family members visitation in a safe manner, so our loved ones are not alone, especially during their final days,” Pease said, adding that even through “loss, plenty of bumps in the road, and heaps of unknowns, we have collectively adapted and done our best to make it through this pandemic.”
Pease said many businesses had to adjust and try to survive under the restrictions that were put into place. “Our schools implemented a remote program that worked well for most children, but I also feel that they need to be in school for social interaction. We have yet to learn the social and emotional impacts from this last year, but the quicker we can get this virus under control and back to normal will be better for everyone,” he said.
State Sen. John C. Velis said the state has learned a lot throughout the pandemic. “I think one of the biggest lessons has been just how impactful a public health pandemic like this can be on all aspects of our lives. The hardest thing for me and my office is to hear what our constituents are going through during this difficult time, whether it be health problems, unemployment issues, small businesses struggles, or even just putting food on the table. COVID has truly affected every single one of us in so many different ways,” Velis said.
“Though not a lasting impact, I am concerned about the lack of vaccine currently available and continue to fight and advocate along with our Mayor and Senator to get a site in Westfield. Hopefully that will happen soon, but with the lack of vaccines being delivered to the state it is a difficult process,” Pease said.
Pease said he has been talking to the office overseeing distribution a couple of times a week and has reached out to CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Corporate Headquarters about getting the vaccine in Westfield. “We will continue working with the Governor’s Office and Health and Human Services, along with reaching out to the pharmacies to get services here in our city,” he said.
Humason said he is currently working with city employees on a plan to reopen City Hall in April. He is working with the new personnel director on how to keep the best interests of both the staff and the taxpayers, “who pay our salaries. At some point they have a right to go back into City Hall,” he said.
Humason said the City learned during the pandemic how to provide services pretty well without having to go into City Hall, offering online pay, by mail, a dropbox, outdoor booths and other options. “We’re trying to make it more convenient for people post-pandemic, so people won’t need to pay in person,” he said.
Overall, Humason said he is optimistic about Westfield going forward. He said he just met with the finance team and asked them if people are paying their taxes. “The answer was we’re doing well. Despite COVID still being here, we’re ahead of collections at this time last year, and we’re on par to do better than we did last year.” He said between taxes, state aid, and revenue from “pot shops” coming online, the city will have enough to take care of the streets, the schools and the Council on Aging.
Humason said every week the city is talking to potential developers who want to invest in Westfield, which will mean a broader tax base in the future. “When COVID is over, I want us to be ready to go, to welcome new businesses, help existing businesses to expand, and help people buying houses. The Rail Trail will be completed this year, and visitors will be coming downtown. We should be ready to take advantage of that influx of people coming to Westfield to ride, walk, run, for the ‘steeple view’ of the city. Downtown restaurants, businesses, and shops should be ready to offer services, food, drink, comfort supplies,” he said, adding, “We will come back strong, if not stronger than before.”
Pease said he will be focusing on education.
“I am on both the Joint Committees for Education and Higher Education and intend to work closely with the School Committee, Administration, and Teachers to understand what kind of legislation is needed to provide the best education for our children,” he said.
“In a time when more people are home or out of work, it’s imperative that we focus on funding the essentials and not forgetting about issues that may not be as visible with COVID taking most of our attention. This is not a time to raise taxes or increase spending on pet projects. We need to focus on spending our tax dollars on Education, businesses that suffered under the COVID restrictions, and infrastructure. It is important to prepare our children for the future, continue to help local businesses to thrive, and to improve our roads throughout the city to help grow our economy,” Pease added.
“The legislature has passed some critical legislation to help our communities during the past year, but we absolutely must do more,” said Velis. “Additional financial supports to residents and businesses who are struggling is a must, and we also need to ensure that our health system has the resources and capacity it needs. Improving access to health care, whether it be for vaccines, mental health and substance use, or physical ailments, is so important in our region,” he added.
“Like all of us, I am really looking forward to the day when we are able to gather in person again and hold the community events we enjoy so much. We’ve adapted in some truly remarkable ways throughout this pandemic and I think that we have all learned not to take our normal everyday activities for granted anymore. We have a lot of work ahead of us to build back and I just hope that we remember that we are all in this together as we start this process,” Velis said.