Woog's World: COVID returns

For months, experts have warned that a second wave of COVID was coming.

Now it’s here.

After earning infamy as one of the first “super-spreader” spots in the nation - remember the infamous party last March? - Westport settled down and got with the program. Our schools were among the first in the state to close; our beaches followed quickly. You could have rolled a bowling ball down the Post Road and not struck anyone.

Slowly, we took steps back toward “normalcy.” Staples High School’s graduation was a great (and socially distanced, different) event. Compo reopened, though out-of-towners were banned, parking was capped at 50 percent and all the tempting picnic tables and barbecue grills disappeared.

The YMCA welcomed back members, requiring reservations. Youth sports returned, as did parents on the sidelines. School was in session, with one-way halls, Plexiglas in the cafeterias, and a hybrid model that demanded flexibility and resourcefulness.

It all worked — when the weather was fine. But winter is coming. Nights are longer. We’ve moved indoors, breathing recirculating air and worrying if that tickle in our throat is seasonal or lethal.

George Santayana said that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. What have we learned over the past eight months that seemed like eight decades?

First: The experts are right. They said the pandemic would spread from the Northeast to the rest of the nation, and it did. They predicted a second wave would hit right about now, and it has. They said that mask wearing is one of the most effective means of preventing coronavirus’ spread, and it has proven to be true.

So let’s continue to listen to the experts. If they are excited about a vaccine but warn it will be months before becoming widely available, let’s not throw our masks away just yet. If they tell us we can’t have a traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas, then let’s make alternate plans. And if they say we should wear a mask nearly all the time, then we should wear a mask nearly all the time.

Second: As dark as the past eight months have been - and I’m not even talking about election angst, racial strife, wildfires and the rest - some shafts of light have shined through. Westporters discovered the joys of working from home (and saved boatloads of money in the process). We took family walks and rode bikes on newly discovered side streets. We learned how to cook, play musical instruments and sew (the new specialty: masks).

As a town we stepped it up too. We collected tons, literally, of food for folks in need. We looked with fresh eyes on people we looked through before: nurses, teachers, store clerks, restaurant workers, mail carriers…

Westport slowed down, took a deep breath, and smelled the (metaphorical and real) roses. We realized that as tough as times were, billions of people across the globe did not live in Westport. Life for them was orders of magnitude worse.

In place of galas, we raised funds for important organizations by creative new means. Our library produced a raft of online programming - and sent it around the world. We watched movies from the comfort of our cars, parked safely apart but reveling in a new sense of community. Remarkable!

We learned a third important lesson too: We can do this.

Think back to the strange, fearful days of mid-March. First, we heard that schools would close for two weeks. Then it was “through April”; finally, “see you this fall.” We spent all summer wondering what reopening would look like. We learned a “hybrid model” integrates distance and in-person learning. We figured out how to replace school plays, concerts and clubs with something different but also meaningful. Now our schools are being tested again, and we’re back to that state of anxious uncertainty.

But imagine if someone had said last March that the virus would still rage in November. Imagine if we’d been told we’d still wear masks eight months later, with no end in sight. Imagine if someone predicted that in addition to a virus, our world would change in countless other political, economic and social ways.

We got through those early days. Sure, every day felt like Groundhog Day - an endless repeat of sameness. Absolutely, it was tough. But we did whatever we had to. Two-thirds of a year later, here we are.

We did it because we had to. We did it because we had no choice. We did it because putting one foot ahead of the other is how we get through life.

So here’s one more lesson: No one knows how or when this will end. Bad, sad 2020 will soon turn into uncertain 2021.

Until then, and for now, only one thing is certain: Wear your damn mask.

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.