COVID-related death, outbreak keep Shelton library closed

Photo of Brian Gioiele
The Plumb Memorial Library in Shelton.

The Plumb Memorial Library in Shelton.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

Plumb Memorial Library remains closed indefinitely after one employee died from COVID-related complications and seven others tested positive for the virus, according to city officials.

Mayor Mark Lauretti confirmed the positive tests and the death of longtime custodian, 59-year-old Gregory Sember, adding that the city’s main library was closed immediately upon learning of multiple positive COVID cases. Plumb Memorial Library was closed at 1 p.m. on Jan. 11.

“My condolences to his family,” Lauretti said about Sember’s death. “This was quite a shock and surprise to all of us. He was seemingly in good health. He was an excellent employee. We used him in multiple locations ... he was very reliable and trustworthy. It’s always a big loss when you lose people like that.”

Sember died Jan. 20 at Griffin Hospital from COVID-related complications, city Administrative Assistant Jack Bashar said. Bashar said Sember worked in the city’s maintenance department since Oct. 8, 2010.

“There are presently six full-time library employees who are out sick and one part-time employee,” Bashar said, adding that four city employees who were doing renovations at the library are out after testing positive.

Each department was designated to do contact tracing, Bashar said, adding that there are sign-in sheets at each department “so that we know who came in.”

“I know that the library made phone calls and notifications when this was discovered because I received a number of inquiries regarding phone calls or notices that people received,” Bashar said.

David Gioiello, Democratic Town Committee chairman, and others have criticized Lauretti for not acting swiftly enough after Sember’s positive test was received on Jan. 6.

“The issue is if you are following (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state guidelines, the library should have closed on Jan. 6, and people that had been in the library on (Jan. 4 to 6) notified followed by a deep cleaning of the library,” Gioiello said.

“The staff should have gone into quarantine ... that did not happen,” Gioiello said. “Instead, the library stayed open until (Jan. 11), exposing more of the public and further exposing the staff. The city should have a written plan that complies with CDC guidelines, all departments should have a copy and follow the policy.”

Lauretti said those criticizing his actions are “misleading.”

“We can only react to the information that is given to us,” he said.

Emergency Management Director Michael Maglione said the library is cleaned regularly and received a “deep clean” after being informed of the positive case.

“We cannot react to one positive test … we’d have to shut the entire city down,” Lauretti said.

Lauretti, as an example, said there was a member of the city’s public works department that has tested positive. “We do not shut the entire department down,” he said.

The mayor said the city responds when it receives information. In this case, Lauretti said once he learned of two more people, “we put the brakes on … and shut down the library until everyone is cleared to return.”

Lauretti again urged residents to follow CDC guidelines — wear masks, maintain social distancing and frequently wash hands.

"It has been overwhelming to say the least,” the city’s Huntington Library Branch Director Marcia Austin said.

Austin, working out of the Huntington Library Branch that has been closed since March, said she only met Sember a few times, “but it was very unsettling news for all of us.”

“I would like to let the public know that we appreciate their help and patience during this time,” Austin said, before asking for residents not to return library materials right now. “There are virtually no staff left. We will not be charging late fines.

“Services will return when it is safe to do so, and updates will be posted to our website, www.shelton I hope everyone stays safe and keeps wearing their masks,” Austin said.