opinion Newport Rhode Island

By Bonnie Watson Kniskern, Newport

letter to the Newport City Council  December 8,  2020

I’d like to thank all Newport City Council members for their service. It’s easy for a resident complain about work they have never done themselves. You are volunteers, you care about your constituents, and you care about the quality of life in this city. I am not writing to complain, but to voice concerns, and to explain to you why.

For the past few weeks, we have watched local Covid infection rates rise dramatically. We have watched residents and visitors do their utmost to comply with the governor’s orders, and we have seen a few bad apples go along their selfish ways. Two weeks ago I myself became ill and was taken to Charlton Hospital in Fall River MA for testing, because my neighborhood hospital, Newport Hospital, does not permit doctors who are not “Lifespan Doctors” to admit patients.

I had several Covid symptoms, the worse was difficulty breathing. After two rounds of testing, it is fairly certain I did NOT have a Covid infection. But to reach that conclusion, my local family doctor spent a considerable amount of time parsing through pre-existing conditions and test results to diagnose and treat my condition. All while handling perhaps 3-4 actual, new, Covid cases a day.  

My doctor is exhausted, as is her staff, from handling the rise in Covid patients while addressing the routine health issues of the ALL her patients.  SO What are we doing to help here?

I believe we need to re-examine how the city is handling this pandemic. A wealth of information is available through the governor’s office. Governor Raimondo is on top of her game. There is no need to duplicate research or directives. There is, however,  a need, a very real need, to communicate the governor‘s advice. And to penalize those who are DELIBERATELY breaking the rules.

My personal experience is that the restaurants I eat in are doing an excellent job of keeping us safe, the stores I shop at are doing an excellent job of keeping us safe. The city is not doing enough. I appeared before you after the July 4th holiday weekend, not because I wanted to, but because I was appalled by the hordes of mask-free people parading down Thames Street. At that time, members of the council as well as the city manager, believed enforcing the mask rule would be “bad for business”.  I think we have a better picture NOW of what’s actually bad for business in this town.

Later in July, I became concerned when a city counselor led volunteers in distributing masks. It worked because we are a small community of people who know each other and that makes a difference in terms of cooperation. But you know, all across the country, including locally, people are beaten up because they politely requested that someone put their mask up, or on.  I have been verbally abused on Thames Street and in a local restaurant when I went to support the restaurant owner. I was shaking after both incidents. Not good.

Residents, visitors, should not be forced into confrontations, should not be the enforcers of the governor’s orders because the city refuses to. I believe enforcement is the job of the people who report to you. Rhode Island’s Department of Health, the Office of Business Administration, have given everyone in a position of responsibility the necessary tools. Are they being used?

Rhode Island has one of the highest infection rates in the country and  it’s time to use all of the resources at our disposal. We have an excellent community policing team. We have a citizenship concerned and willing to do the right thing. 

What we are lacking, foremost, is education of our most vulnerable populations, in the language they speak. What we are lacking is a concerted effort to connect everyone to the resources they need to stay educated, to stay up to speed, to get tested, to keep track of where they go and who they come in contact with. We have the tools. I beg you to use them.