Woog's World: All hell breaks loose amid coronavirus

It’s just a few days into the COVID-19 pandemic — in this country, anyway.

A week ago Monday a friend said, “We are going to see things you and I have never seen in our lifetimes.” I thought he was an alarmist.

Two days later, I was preparing to go to New York to have dinner and see Alec Baldwin and Andy Borowitz at Town Hall. Minutes before leaving, I got word that Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport-Weston Health District director Mark Cooper would hold a press conference outside a different town hall: Ours.

I figured I’d catch a later train. By the time the press conference ended though, the show in the city had been canceled.

And all hell broke loose in my hometown.

There was much more to come, of course. With schools closed — but “distance learning” not yet in place — many parents of young children settled down to help them with the educational packets they’d brought home, in preparation of a closure. Many parents of older students enforced the stay home/social distancing advice they’d been hearing for days.

Some parents ignored that advice. They arranged play dates, even sleepovers, for their kids. They let their teenage drivers head downtown or to friends’ homes. It was like a snow day, but the weather was fine.

The weather was even better on Saturday. Dozens of Westporters flocked where they always do when the sun shines: Compo Beach. Most kept their distance from others. There were no big gatherings, no circles of chairs and shared picnics.

But the sight unnerved town officials. Clearly, their “social distancing” message needed more power. That night, Marpe announced that the Compo playground — a place packed with people, whose surfaces (like any playground) have probably never been cleaned — would be closed until further notice.

So would the Compo and Burying Hill parking lots.

That did not sit well with a certain segment of residents. Figuring there was more than one way to skin this coronavirus cat, on Sunday they headed back to the beach. They parked up and down Soundview Drive and along side streets, right underneath the “No Parking” signs. Police ticketed the vehicles, but that hardly made a dent. When the first group left, others drove down and took their place.

The next day, things changed even more dramatically. With 20 cases now confirmed in town — up from one the day before — Marpe invoked emergency powers. All restaurants, bars, delicatessens, any place food or beverages are prepared for on-premises consumption, were closed to indoor service. Food could be picked up curbside or delivered only.

All gyms and fitness centers were closed too. So were all gatherings at the Inn at Longshore. That might sound random, until you realize it’s one of the most popular spots in Westport for weddings.

All that happened in the seven days after I thought my friend was pushing the panic button.

It’s been just hours, really, since the reality of the coronavirus hit home. But everyone — alarmists and non-worriers; optimists and pessimists; folks who see the glass as half-empty, and those who always think it overflows — now whistle the same tune. Things will get even worse before they get better.

It’s astonishing what I already miss. With schools closed until who knows when, what I wouldn’t give now to drive behind a yellow Dattco bus. I’d gladly stop every 10 yards if it meant kids could go to school.

I’m betting it won’t be long before those same youngsters can’t wait to go back. School is so important, they now realize.

For the little ones, it’s the excitement of learning to read or write, then discovering math and science. In middle school, it’s a place to channel all that excess energy, in a warm, nurturing environment. For teenagers, high school sports, drama, music, newspaper, robotics — they’re all indispensable. Add in proms, the college application process, figuring out who you are and where you fit in the world, guided by adults who care (and are not, for better or worse, your parents), and you understand why school is the cornerstone of our kids’ days.

That’s just one segment of town. What happens to older Westporters, now that another structural institution — the senior center — is closed? What about the men and women whose physical and mental health may be dependent on their yoga or spin class, or their daily swim at the Y?

Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg. And, like any iceberg, the greatest danger lurks where no one can see it.

Stay tuned, buckle up, and wash your hands.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.