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Chelsea city manager sounds urgent alarm, calls for residents to stay home 24 hours a day

Chelsea is the “epicenter” of the coronavirus outbreak and residents should now shift to a voluntary 24-hour-a-day curfew to slow the spread of the disease in the city, where 387 people have the illness and at least 10 have died, including five at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, the city manager said Thursday.

"These are desperate times,'' said City Manager Thomas Ambrosino in a telephone interview. “It seems like Chelsea is the epicenter of the coronavirus ... based on the sheer number of people infected per our population.”

He said Governor Charlie Baker’s administration had been “extremely responsive,” but the city did not have the resources it needed.

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“I understand the desire to be equitable," he said. “But the epicenter of the crisis right now is Chelsea, Massachusetts, and I think we have to start deploying resources to where the contagion is the greatest.”

He said Chelsea needed direct financial aid from the federal government and, in the short term, needed the state to commandeer hotel rooms in his city so people can recover from COVID-19 in a way that will not spread the virus to family members or fellow residents of the multi-family homes that are common in the city.

Chelsea and the city of Revere are together using $800,000 to rent a motel in Revere for two months for recovering COVID-19 patients, he said. But the need outstrips the supply. It is especially difficult for Chelsea residents to separate themselves from relatives and neighbors, he said.

The public health crisis has smashed both the legal and the underground economies, creating a high level of disruption and anxiety among city residents, whom Ambrosino said will need “millions and millions of dollars” to recover from the setbacks.

"In the best of economic times, many people get by here on the margins. They scrape by working two or three jobs. Those jobs are gone now,'' Ambrosino said. “These aren’t the kind of people who can show up at the unemployment line. They aren’t working regular jobs.”

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The city has authorized $500,000 for relief of its residents. The United Way has provided resources from its private philanthropies, and the Baker administration has provided what it can. But more help is needed to pay for residents’ rent, and to supply them with food and cleaning products necessary to fight the coronavirus, he said.

“Many of our residents here in Chelsea do not have an income any more. They’ve lost their jobs. They have no income coming in in whatsoever. They are not getting a bailout check from the federal government," he said.

Ambrosino attributed the coronavirus’s toll to the city’s density - it’s only 1.8 square miles but is home to 40,000 people - and the fact that residents who have been working use mass transit to get to and from work, thereby possibly increasing their exposure risk.

Ambrosino called for residents to voluntarily stay inside for 24 hours a day, except for the rare truly necessary excursion.

"Stay at home 24/7,′' he said. “Only come out if you need assistance.”



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.