Woog’s World: We have no idea what post-pandemic world will look like

No one yet knows what a post-pandemic world will look like. But we’re beginning to imagine one.

When COVID-19 slammed us in mid-March - yes, it really was almost two months ago - Westport was stunned into submission. We joined the rest of the country in slamming the brakes on nearly every activity. We closed our schools, stores, restaurants. We retreated into our homes. We scavenged for toilet paper and Lysol as desperately as we searched for any shred of normalcy.

But this place bore an extra burden. We were in the national spotlight. Our town was a “super spreader,” a vector of illness caused by “the party.” Whether or not we deserved the attention, it was one more reminder that the world had changed. And we would have to change along with it.

By early April we’d regained our footing. Restaurants and stores honed curbside pickup and home delivery options. Supermarkets marked floors with one-way directions, closed cash registers and furiously wiped down shopping carts. People wore masks, and kept social distance.

Now, as the weather brightens, our mood is slightly less dark. We’re outside more. We think we see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Is it really there? Is it a mirage? Or is it the light from a train that is instead barreling through the tunnel, aiming straight at us?

I have no idea. Nor do I know what a post-pandemic world will look like. All I know is, it will be very different from the one we lived in two months (which seems like two centuries) ago.

Town officials hope to reopen Compo Beach parking lots on May 15. Capacity will be limited. We can deal with that. But cookouts will be prohibited - in fact, the picnic tables are already gone from South Beach. Can we deal with that? A basic joy of summer - gathering with friends for food and fun - is one of the coronavirus casualties. On the other hand, the sun still sets gloriously over the Sound. And we’ll be there again to see it.

It’s almost certain our students will not be back in class this spring. Odds are good they’ll return in the fall. But what will schools look like? How can we protect them (and teachers, administrators, nurses, custodians and so many others) in buildings built for big numbers? How will cafeterias operate? Band, orchestra, chorus, and every other part of a school day we always accepted as etched in stone? We’ve had plenty of time to think about school now. We realize how much went on there, how important it was, and how hard it is to replicate at home. School may look different in the future. But we’ll be very grateful it’s there.

Youth sports have been a huge part of Westport life. This spring, it vanished. Will they come back? Will youngsters who missed a season be hungry to play, or realize it’s not that important? Will coaches have the time (and financial freedom) to continue to volunteer? Will spending every weekend traveling to faraway games be a welcome relief, or a duty we can give up? Will there even be other teams to play?

Youth sports leagues lost an entire season of registration fees. That hurts. Yet other organizations lost far more. Spring was prime fundraising gala season. A Better Chance of Westport scrubbed their Dream Event. The Westport Library canceled Booked for the Evening. Tables, silent auctions, opportunities to create awareness and energy - and fund programs - are gone. Some may be rescheduled. Questions abound: Will people still want to come to crowded events? Even if they do, can they afford to? Can local merchants - those that survive - offer what they have in the past, for prizes and raffles? What’s the future of all those worthy groups in town, at a time we’ll need them more than ever?

The Westport Country Playhouse postponed its 2020 season to 2021. What portion of its audience will it lose forever? The Levitt Pavilion will be dark this summer too. What will that mean to its many devoted fans? And - a small though important effect - don’t overlook all those picnic dinners and bottles of wine that will be unsold.

Every facet of Westport life will look different, when the “new normal” becomes the “next normal.” Will we walk more and drive less, because we became acquainted with the joys of walking? Will we swarm back to the gym, or have we found new ways to exercise? Will we still work from home? Will we decide business travel is a huge waste of time and resources, and meet clients by Zoom?

I have absolutely no idea. Neither does anyone. Just like - in early March - we knew something was coming. We just had no clue what.

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.