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One meeting member's view: Hold sessions in person

My name is David Levy. I’m a Town Meeting member from Precinct 18. Like many of you, I read with interest newly elected Town Moderator Greg Christiana's note about whether to hold an in-person or remote meeting

Virtual Town Meeting logo

I served on Town Meeting during the last two virtual sessions. While I applaud then-Moderator Leone and town staff’s efforts to conduct a virtual meeting as well as possible, I felt the overall discord wanting, compared to our Town Meetings conducted at Town Hall. It wasn’t just the lengthy voting procedures. Virtual forums provided people the opportunity to dispense with candor, civility and efficiency. All three are normally present in our in-person sessions. 

Highlights of this include the 30 minutes we wasted debating how a Red Sox score was announced on Town Meeting. One member had to be told to turn down his or her TV as we couldn’t hear the member speaking. The point-of-order option was routinely abused. In short, it was no way to conduct debate on such issues as fiscal budgets or environmental policy or social justice. 

Today, all of our children attend Arlington Public Schools in person, indoors, with masks optional. Our businesses no longer mandate masks to enter. Grocery stores no longer limit the number of customers indoors in a given time. People are going back to work in offices more routinely.   

Why should Town Meeting be different? What sets us apart? Are we implying we’re not prepared to face the same risks as our fellow citizens and children? 

Middlesex County is currently listed as “low” for transmission by the CDC. The CDC still advises that boosters and even second boosters for certain groups are the best way to prevent hospitalization and severe illness. The CDC and other groups recommend N95 masks for those wishing to further protect themselves indoors. 

I normally wear a N95 mask when in certain businesses. This is the same science that allowed us to lift mask mandates and other restrictions in our schools and businesses, all of which occurred in ’22. 

In short, we are very lucky to have good science that protects us from transmission and severe disease. We should use that science for the benefit of having a robust, civil and spirited debate, which means in person. 

If brought to a vote, I will vote for an in-person meeting. I urge my fellow Town Meeting members to do the same.  


Town Meeting logo
 
Town Meeting information at town website
 

This letter was published Monday, April 11, 2022.

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Comments

Grant Cook on Monday, 11 April 2022 08:34
If not now, when?

I do agree David raises up a serious topic - why not now for an in-person town meeting. Or phrased another way, what is the reason for recommending virtual, and will that reason change next year or the year after?

COVID is on its way to being endemic - its not going away, and we will have reoccurring waves of it. At any time, it might be trending upward, downward, maybe both in the same month. Case counts seem less useful now, with milder variants predominant - deaths have dropped significantly and appear to be trending downward or at least staying level, much lower than during the last surge. Most congregate settings - restaurants, theaters, schools, are operating close to normally, without lockdowns, mandated masking.

We have effective vaccines, and will likely have accompanying boosters to keep immunity high. We have in our area a high vaccination rate in our population. Early-symptom treatments are available and appear also to be very effective. And N95 masks for those that wish to use them are freely available. Rapidtests are commonplace and available - I know because I have a dozen boxes of them up in my medical supplies. People could be asked to self-test each Monday of the 4-5 weeks of TM, as another layer of protection.

It is true, the age demographic skews older in Town Meeting, and that is a higher risk group, but that is unlikely to change.

If concern for age or immunocompromised status or other high risk factors that are constants in our lives leads to a recommendation for a virtual town meeting, then it will not be a one time action - the same conditions are going to continue to be present.

I do agree David raises up a serious topic - why not now for an in-person town meeting. Or phrased another way, what is the reason for recommending virtual, and will that reason change next year or the year after? COVID is on its way to being endemic - its not going away, and we will have reoccurring waves of it. At any time, it might be trending upward, downward, maybe both in the same month. Case counts seem less useful now, with milder variants predominant - deaths have dropped significantly and appear to be trending downward or at least staying level, much lower than during the last surge. Most congregate settings - restaurants, theaters, schools, are operating close to normally, without lockdowns, mandated masking. We have effective vaccines, and will likely have accompanying boosters to keep immunity high. We have in our area a high vaccination rate in our population. Early-symptom treatments are available and appear also to be very effective. And N95 masks for those that wish to use them are freely available. Rapidtests are commonplace and available - I know because I have a dozen boxes of them up in my medical supplies. People could be asked to self-test each Monday of the 4-5 weeks of TM, as another layer of protection. It is true, the age demographic skews older in Town Meeting, and that is a higher risk group, but that is unlikely to change. If concern for age or immunocompromised status or other high risk factors that are constants in our lives leads to a recommendation for a virtual town meeting, then it will not be a one time action - the same conditions are going to continue to be present.
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