Amherst has hotline to report gatherings, mask scofflaws

  • Signs on the windows of businesses on Pleasant Street in Amherst are part of a welcome-back campaign downtown.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2020 7:19:10 PM

AMHERST — A telephone hotline and a dedicated email are being created so residents can call for assistance when they see people flouting the town mask-wearing order, not properly socially distancing or holding large gatherings.

Amherst officials announced Tuesday that the tools will be a clearinghouse for complaints and that staff at Town Hall will be answering the calls and monitoring messages throughout the workday to ensure there is a response to issues that are raised.

Communications manager Brianna Sunryd said town officials anticipate that the hotline, at 259-2425, and email, covidconcerns@amherstma.gov, will be used to deal with questions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and students at the University of Massachusetts return to their off-campus housing for an early beginning to the fall semester.

“Depending on the nature of the concern or question, the appropriate staff person will provide information and/or follow up,” Sunryd said.

As part of the efforts to keep the community safe, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said ambassadors are being hired to go to downtown, to village centers and to neighborhoods to remind people of ways they can act to protect themselves.

Bockelman said the lead ambassador has been hired and an additional 15 to 20 will join the team, almost all of whom will be UMass students. Though the town had hoped to have this initiative in place for the last weekend in August, it may be delayed until Labor Day weekend.

Already, college-age people are being seen in the community as summer winds down.

“People are more attuned to groups of young people being out together,” Bockelman said.

The town wants to make sure that concerns are directed to the right place, Bockelman said, adding that residents are nervous about a spike in positive tests, which is likely as UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College are all doing regular testing of students, staff and faculty.

Bockelman said it’s also important to know that not everyone is medically able to wear a mask, including some of the homeless population that loiters in downtown, but have preexisting medical conditions that makes putting on a mask impossible.

Police will still be called when noise and other disruptions impact residents’ quality of life.

During the first weekend back, police responded to 10 parties.

One party, late Saturday night at 47 South Prospect St., had dozens of college-age people not wearing masks or properly social distancing as they were going into and out of the house. Police issued two $300 tickets to the residents for violating the town’s noise bylaw, before the music was turned off and the guests were sent on their way.

And after midnight Sunday, police arrested four people at 16 South Whitney St., each on a charge of violating the town’s noise bylaw.

Between 9:49 p.m. Friday and 12:59 a.m. Sunday, police also issued warnings to people holding loud parties on Newell Court, Lincoln Avenue, Amity Street, Hobart Lane, North Pleasant Street, Belchertown Road, Tamarack Drive and South Whitney Street

Federal COVID-19 money Amherst has received is covering most of the cost of the ambassadors program. The town has also partnered with the UMass Off Campus Student Life office, where some of the ambassadors previously have worked on the Walk This Way program. That initiative to direct students from passing through largely residential streets when going to and from the downtown bars is not needed this fall with less students on campus and downtown bars closed.

Bockelman said the town is also looking at the rental registration program to communicate with off-campus students and will depend on the university to assist in building on compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures.


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