Norwalk library again considers vaccine mandate, delays lifting COVID precautions

National gurad troops help as local residents line up for the The Griffin Hospital mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Norwalk Public Library main branch on Belden Ave. Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Norwalk, Conn. The mobile clinic will be at several locations in Norwalk this week.

National gurad troops help as local residents line up for the The Griffin Hospital mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Norwalk Public Library main branch on Belden Ave. Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Norwalk, Conn. The mobile clinic will be at several locations in Norwalk this week.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK—Norwalk Public Library, which is once again considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, opted against altering COVID library operations until the new year.

At a recent Library Board of Trusteed meeting, the board voted unanimously against increasing the number of patrons allowed in library community rooms at a time.

However, while discussing whether to increase the library COVID-time capacity, the subject of vaccine mandates was raised once again.

“In the long run, the only really effective tool against this virus is a vaccine mandate,” Library Board Director Alex Knopp said. “I think everything else is going to fall short. There’ll be spikes and valleys and new spikes. We won’t be able to try to do a knockout unless there’s a vaccine mandate.”

The option for a vaccine mandate was previously discussed as the board planned for the June reopening.

At that time, Knopp spoke in favor of instituting a “vaccine passport” requiring proof of vaccination before patrons could enter the library. City officials adamantly objected to the idea.

The issue of whether the city has a right to ban the implementation of a vaccination requirement was also discussed.

“I tried to discuss this with Lamond (Daniels, Chief of Community Services) and he doesn’t believe the city will authorize this,” Knopp said. “We could mandate it, but it would be an unpleasant fight with the city. On the other hand, we control what activities take place in the library, not the city.”

Earlier this month, Norwalk lifted its indoor mask mandate for all spaces except for city-owned properties, which includes the two libraries.

Library Board member Patsy Brescia, who also chairs the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Board of Trustees, said the mansion recently held a gala that required a signature confirming vaccination status.

“We just ran a gala at mansion, which is a city building, and had 100 people and required proof of vaccination,” Brescia said. “Some people chose not to come, but that’s what we did and we had very little blowback.”

Both the main and South Norwalk branches of the library were open throughout the pandemic in varying degrees, but the two libraries reopened in a fuller capacity in June. The restrictions in place for the June reopening—masking, social distancing and limiting the number of patrons per floor—will remain for the time being.

The main easement of coronavirus precautions up for consideration was increasing the capacity of the main branch and SoNo community rooms from 25 to 50 people and 15 to 40 people, respectively. The normal community room capacity in the main branch is 175 and 125 for the SoNo branch, Library Director Sherelle Harris said.

Harris said there was likely to be little more patrons than currently visited the library if the capacity and restrictions were eased.

“We have not been so bombarded, even though we have restrictions, where we have to put people out,” Harris said. “Even if we lift restrictions per floor, I don’t think that we’re going to see many more people coming in than we already see.”

Looking at nearby public libraries, there are two that require proof of vaccination to enter, including Stamford, Harris said.

With COVID rates on the rise and the holiday season in full swing, the board members decided it was an inopportune time to expand library capacity and ease restrictions from their current levels.

“I’m concerned if we open up these two community rooms to large groups of 40 and 50 people—even though they’re below the capacity of the rooms—without required vaccination proof, we are just going to be complicit in failing to take an important step to help kill this virus,” Knopp said.

Knopp said he does consider a policy requiring either vaccination or submission to weekly COVID-19 testing as a vaccine mandate. Such a requirement was put in place for city employees in August.

abigail.brone@hearstmediact.com