Social Distancing, Public Shaming: What’s A Blogger To Do?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten a dozen or so emails about an important topic. They say things like:

  • “My neighbors let their kids ride bikes and play together in the driveway. They’re all very close together, and the parents don’t seem mind at all. In fact they’re there too, chatting away.”
  • “There was a party down the street yesterday. Teenagers drove over, parked, and went out in back. Here is a photo of the cars.”
  • “People on our road walk every day, with no social distancing at all. It’s the same people, all the time.”

The emails all urge me to write something. And they all end the same way: Please don’t use my name.

Neighbors on Sylvan Road North practice social distancing. (Photo/Nancy Breakstone)

I write back. I say I am happy to post something, but first I need to know: What did you say to them? How did they react?

That’s an important part of anything I’d write: Not just what seems like a disregard for important social norms (and laws), but the story behind it.

Did the neighbor say, “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. It’s just so hard with the kids at home all day, and my husband out of work. I thought just this once I’d give them a treat. But you’re right. Thanks for saying something. It absolutely won’t happen again.”

Or did he say, “Screw you. No one can tell me how to live my life.”

These are the types of photos readers ask me to post. Always anonymously.

Did someone respond, “Yes, we had 3 people over. But they all stayed 15 feet apart — not 6. We asked one not to come, because someone in their house was quarantined. And we made sure the only things they touched were the chairs they sat in.”

Or did someone else respond, “Well, if you walked the right way facing traffic, I wouldn’t have to pass you?”

The reactions of Westporters to requests to comply with the coronavirus rules is as important an element of the story these folks want me to write as the actions themselves.

But when I ask those questions, I never hear back.

This type of teenage gathering has drawn praise — and criticism. (Photo/Kimberly Paris)

I understand the request for anonymity. This is a small town. It’s hard to stand up publicly for what’s right (though we always tell our kids to do it).

What I don’t understand is the unwillingness of people to stand up in the moment — but to then want me to call out others for it.

It’s clear many Westporters are practicing strict physical distancing — and taking it seriously. It’s clear too that some Westporters aren’t.

So what’s the solution, blog-wise? Should “06880” be the repository for my-neighbor-did-this-and-I-want-everyone-to-know stories? Or should people contact me only after they’ve already made their views known, face to face (or at least via email or text)?

I welcome your thoughts. Please click “Comments” below. Be civil. And — of course — use your full, real name.

More social distancing: grandparents stay away. (Photo courtesy of Bob Weingarten)

42 responses to “Social Distancing, Public Shaming: What’s A Blogger To Do?

  1. Thanks, Dan! It’s not your job to be everyone else’s voice or an enforcer. The positivity of your ongoing coverage has been very appreciated.

  2. Jordan Broadbent

    I think that the behavior of snitching and denouncing people is one of the most disgusting actions people, neighbors can do.
    These cowards don’t want their names to be printed, but they send you photos of the people to be published in your blog.
    And then when the corona crises is over, they greet their neighbors again and pretend as nothing happened, what hypocrites.
    My family had to live that in Europe a long time ago.
    It started with “Blockwarts”. Then there was the Gestapo and later after the war, it was the Stasi when you were living in the wrong part of the country.
    I know some people will scream now, that this is not comparable, but this is the way it starts.
    It always starts small, but it always gets out of control at one point.

  3. I’ve found the parking lots at Staples by the tennis courts and soccer field have become defacto social gathering hotspots for teenagers and families with young kids. However, I’ve seen the cars parked with distance between them and people sitting either in the rear of their cars or on lawn (pavement?) chairs spaced apart. Some of the younger kids play on the grass with generally adequate amount of distance between them.

  4. Bob Ippolito

    These people who are complaining anonymously are the reason Westport should never have a drone. They love to complain and blame and then hide behind Big Brother. You should never let a wonderful blog like yours be redirected into a tattletale weapon for their misuse and abuse.

  5. Vanessa Bradford

    When I worked at Westport News, the editor would not print a letter to the editor if it was anonymous. I believe it was policy

  6. Nancy Wahler

    As we have seen, there is nothing perfect in this world. Right now, we need to work as a community. I think there is a nice way to let neighbors or others in the community know how you feel. Just don’t attack people and put them on the defense. Everyone is trying in various degrees.

  7. Snitching on your neighbors is not very neighborly. If one is that upset by the action of a neighbor, they should approach them. If they can’t/won’t/don’t, they should learn to accept.
    I feel we all have different comfort levels with the social distancing guidelines. Some people will pick up take out and yet won’t sit 6 feet apart in a neighbors yard, feeling it is too risky. Others will walk 6 feet apart with a friend but won’t go to a grocery store. When I run, I stay more than 6 feet apart from anyone but I am aware that there are things on social media stating that you “spray coronavirus up to 15 feet in the air when you run” so some people read that and probably think I shouldn’t be running at all. If I approach a walker covered up in mask and gloves, I cover my face when I walk/run by to make sure they feel comfortable.
    There is a lot of mixed and misinformation out there and we are all trying to navigate it the best we can. I find most people are conscious of social distancing in westport and are trying to make informed decisions based on the current guidelines. If my neighbor was having a gathering without social distancing I would probably make a point to social distance myself from them. If I felt they were putting me or other neighbors in harms way for some reason I would say something. Your job as a blogger is not to enforce social distance guidelines in private property. They are after all, guidelines.

  8. Estevao Divino

    If adults acted like adults, this wouldn’t even be an issue. It is hard to understand why people can’t follow simple guidelines so we can all get back to normal (whatever that will be) soon. The quickest we get rid of this virus, the sooner our town (and country) will be back to normal. Not following the guidelines is a selfish act… think about all the people and business that are suffering and might not ever be able to recover from this? If we all do our part, as small as it may be, no snitching would be necessary and who knows, maybe the spread would be contained?! Is it really hard to stay home for a few months?! God forbid our kids ever have to live through something like this again; but if they do, they will most likely act the same way we are acting now. So be a good role model.

  9. Dan – the challenge we face is this blog is the PARKING SHAMING headquarters of Westport, so we understand that people would naturally assume that SHAMING is encouraged no matter the topic. We are humans. We are flawed. Some are entitled. Some are wise. Some feel invincible. Some feel afraid. SHAMING, I am pretty confident, does not alter behavior.

  10. One excellent point in your example is, everybody needs to walk on the side of the street FACING traffic. Let’s make this a habit, as much as sneezing into our elbows is a habit! It’s such an easy way to prevent passing too close. Second common sense request, please don’t walk three and four abreast if someone is trying to pass you. If everybody does this we would all feel safer on our walks. You can nicely call out, ‘hi! I’ll take this side if you take that side!’ Very neighborly and non-confrontational way to put it. Kids can be a little oblivious so parents need to remind them.

  11. I feel that people walking or running on a street that is not very wide, should wear a mask of some sort or even a scarf if the mask is too confining for breathing while running, to cover their mouth and nose.. My husband and I can no longer take walks in our neighborhood with our mask on, because no one wears a mask. We now walk on our driveway and lawn and go back-and-forth to get our exercise. Part of our driveway is quite close to the road and as people are walking or running, we have to quickly go the other way. It’s a challenge to grab the mail on nice days. There has been a silver lining because it’s been lovely to look at and appreciate all of the trees and flowering bushes on our property starting from the stage of buds, and watching their daily progress to blooming, but it would be nice to have a choice about walking on the street. There has been quite a bit of research and many articles about how the air travels when you pass someone when they’re running and it’s not safe for others unless they are covered up. It would be great if people had consideration for others especially during this time when we’re already confined. Praying everyone stays well. ❤️

  12. Let’s see, use common sense, no big crowds, wear your mask or cover face going to public places, or places of “potential or unavoidable social distancing.”
    Overall, very proud of the job our First Selectman, town officials, and citizens have done. We as a community should be proud of ourselves. Perfect we are not.
    Complicating Simplicity will make your crazy!!!!!!!

  13. Judith Marks-White

    Bravo to you, Dan. I don’t see this as shaming. I see it as enlightening, which is what makes your blog post thought-provoking and resonant. Thanks for telling it like it is, and for reminding us all to please be prudent during these daunting and difficult days.

  14. Julie Van Norden

    It’s not your job, Dan, to call out people, especially since you are not a first hand witness. Unfortunately this situation brings out the worst in self-righteousness.

  15. John Richers

    We walk down by Compo on Hillspoint and Soundview and most (not all) people are wearing masks and most (not all) folks swing wide when passing. There is often a friendly of or wave of acknowledgment and camaraderie. But we still find some (not all) young folks (high school or college age) who seem oblivious to the concept of distancing. It’s hard to believe, but true. We will often remind them, amicably, about the six feet distancing recommendation. We hope that it sinks in as we notice that people have gotten better about this as the weeks have gone by.

  16. Part of the issue is that folks think 6 foot social distancing or fake/homemade masks are sufficient and makes things safe. They will be quick to say our federal/state/local “leaders” say 6 feet and wear my underwear on my face! but won’t spend a few minutes doing some reading to understand that six foot social distancing is archaic and won’t likely work with modern day society. They won’t want to hear that a sneeze or cough can send droplets upwards of 30 feet almost instantly. Or the virus can float in the air hundreds of feet under the right conditions (air flow, temperature, humidity, etc). And that homemade (what I refer to as fake) masks do NOT fully protect the wearer (the idea is simply to cut down on droplets being ejected by the wearer but based on my research and opinion, plenty will still escape). If our “leaders” avoided pushing non-sense (including allowing TONs of not really “essential” businesses to continue to operate cough dog groomers cough car washes cough etc etc etc), perhaps folks may have taken it a bit more seriously. Other countries closed EVERYTHING down, wouldn’t let general public into grocery stores, had employees handing out essentials on the street, made sure people that had to be out and about / were essential workers had REAL respirator masks / PPE. I won’t even get into the fact that we saw this coming full force our way since January and our “leaders” didn’t start preparing until it was to late. They didn’t want to alarm the general public nor shut down things, until it was too late. In my opinion, we just experienced a TOTAL failure. My hope is that our “leaders” are planning for Fall flu season right now as some experts say it will hit hard and worse than what we are currently going through. There should be detailed plans, plans to stockpile legit PPE, plans to be able to disseminate it, etc. My guess is we will see another total failure though.

    • Thank you Josh Stein for your knowledge and sensitivity
      I appreciate your points are well taken, wise
      Everyone should give you kudos for being articulate
      Live in hope, have faith in life, hope everyone
      Sticks to the rules, errs on the side of caution

  17. Hi Dan- I find parking shaming in a different category- it is an amusement. We get to see how oblivious or self important some people can be in sharing the available parking we have out there. Shame on them!

    But in a COVID19 crisis where we are all trying to come out of the shelter of our homes safely- Should we call it snitching or can we say it is a public service announcement to call attention to potentially life threatening situations we see?

    We all have to remember- this disease can and will manifest differently in each and every person. And none of us gets a guarantee which we will be. Some will be asymptomatic, some get a bad cold and some will die!

    It’s a gamble! But the odds are known. 4 out of 5 who get the virus will be asymptomatic. If you are symptomatic enough to get a test- 1 in 12 will die- especially if your older, have diabetes, suffer from hypertension or have a weakened immune system. If you go on a ventilator 9 out of 10 will die.

    So is it snitching or a public service announcement to call attention to someone who is jeopardizing the health and safety of others.

    It’s your call!! And it’s your life and mine on the line !! Roll the dice!!

  18. Dan, I feel sorry for the people who ask you to post their comments anonymously. What a cowardly thing to do. I ask them to please read about the Stasi in former East Germany, the Red Guards in China and about many regimes around the globe today who encourage their citizens to spy and report on neighbors. That’s not America, that’s not Connecticut and that’s not Westport. Most people observe the rules. If someone comes across behavior which is dangerous or which bothers him/her, please make a comment to the person who offends you.

  19. Thanks as always Dan. Yes, I’ve gently asked people to follow the rules for all our sakes. A man in the grocery store going the wrong way down a one way crowded aisle told me “F off. I am going one way”. This, and similar reactions, are why I stop and we turn to you.

  20. Erica Winkler

    As a rule for social media I teach my kids ‘you wrote it, you own it’. If you aren’t willing to walk up and have a difficult conversation (face to face) than you shouldn’t write about it on social media (and own it by using your name). For me, it’s all about intentions. Trying to keep people safe and healthy allows for a good conversation (at a social distance of course). Trying to call people out and be nasty says more about you than it does them.

  21. Thanks for asking. I asked a gentleman who was walking against traffic in a crowded one way aisle at S&S to not walk against the arrows. He told me to “F off. I AM walking my way” manager said many folks have been rude. Frankly, I’m afraid and don’t comment any more. Perhaps people turn to you for that reason and never trust you and value what you do. Thanks so much

    • To be honest, I followed the arrows for two visits (my weekly visits). The worst offenders were employees not following. And I’d say a majority of shoppers were not following either. So its a lost cause. I am not going to waste my time with it. And I was only doing it to be nice because based on my research, it will likely not do much of anything to stop the spread.

  22. please no parties, social distance 10 feet, as Marpe says, stay home , stay safe.. the more we do this, the sooner we are “out”, getting together… if everyone honors, and respects each other, this will end.. it is not about shaming, it is about why do people veil their actions in”, it’s my freedom, don’t tell me what to do “continue,. people, it’s a pandemic yes you are told what to do. for the GREATER GOOD, stop being SELFISH . It is not fun, but imperative…

  23. Marci Caporizzo

    LIFE….it is worth living no matter how it’s done!

    Social distancing has been around since the beginning of time. One can even observe it in the animal kingdom, although for reasons of survival….but then isn’t that what this Covid 19 Virus is doing to us all?

    I live on a beautiful street and a wonderful neighborhood in Westport….we are all quite neighborly although one will always find some that are more introverted and are respected for their choice. We don’t call them out for being anti-social but rather embrace their choice of lifestyle. It’s a rather difficult to live close to one another and not sometimes feel affronted by another’s actions….but it is far more peaceful to allow everyone to be who they are comfortable BE-ing. This is a challenge as human beings that we all face and all have a choice of making good or bad on a daily basis.

    During this Covid 19 Challenge that we have all been thrown into….. I have been fortunate to be located at my 98 year old Dads home in the country and in another state. I come to be with him every December until spring since he lost his beloved wife of 71 years 6 years ago….mostly for companionship as he is fully capable of caring for himself. He is a very peaceful man who has taught me the most valuable lessons of my life and is still teaching me to this day…especially during this challenge that is upon us all. We have 14 acres of woodlands next to my brother who has 28+ acres of woodland and are bordered by open space town property and across the street is State Park property and a beautiful lake…(YES, I am most fortunate for this). Social Distancing has not been an issue. What growing up here has taught me and returning here as I do has given me the opportunity to observe nature in it’s glory. As one watches all the varied species of fauna co-exist, a prominent lesson is learned. They co-exist side by side, creatures of the air and land….the only time that they confront one another is when there is an issue of territory (which is usually resolved with a brief chase as so often happens with the squirrels and chipmunks). Birds tend to forage along side each other and only when another comes a bit to close to a nest is there any sort of warning or brief chase. Now it seems quite logical that this goes on 24/7, 365 days of the year and no one is the wiser unless you stop to observe Mother Nature in her finest. Could we all learn something from observing Mother Nature….I would venture to guess the answer is a resounding YES!

    Could it be, that as some of you have stated….we figure out a way that works for us as an individual without trying to upset the natural balance of things…. A few posts have stated that you can find a way around the problem or through the problem without losing your calmness and composure or having it lead to hurtful emotions that later need to be resolved between neighbors, strangers and friends. This world has way too many people ‘nesting’ way too close for Mother Nature but with us BE-ings having the capacity of problem solving and rational emotional well being can it be that we too can find it in our hearts to work around an issue and not lose our well being in the process. As a species of higher order…could it be that we can move on and not find the need to put others on notice and inflict ill will among all. A challenge for us Humans….yes no doubt some of us are better at it than others but we all have the same capacity.

    Can you do this…..with each individual that understands Mother Nature and her ways….if you go forth into your day and life with the express need to live peacefully ….I venture to guess that you too can make it through this trying time without losing your Love of Life. Bless those that oppose your thinking and in the end you will have a comfortable day and a life full beyond measure.

  24. Werner Liepolt

    What’s a blogger to do?

    Acknowledge publicly that every gathering where social distancing is ignored …

    Gives the corona virus more victims

    Demeans and devalues the front liners’ efforts

    Postpones our recovery

    Makes responsible people upset because they are vulnerable (not because they are secret police.)

  25. Michelle Benner

    I live on Hillspoint Road between Greens Farms and Post. Lots of people walk, run, and bike by every day because there is a sidewalk on one side of the road and it leads to the beach. Our family is outside often on our driveway playing basketball or working in our yard / gardening. From my daily observations, most (almost ALL) people are not wearing masks. It’s to such an extent that our family and many of our neighbors won’t even go on Hillspoint Road anymore because it feels unsafe. I too look both ways to make sure the coast is clear just to get the mail. I wish people would respect the rules and each other by wearing masks in public for the safety of all. On Friday (4/24) the collective we (anyone signed up for town emails or txts) received this message from the town as a reminder: “The Governor’s Executive Order 7BB requires cloth face coverings or higher level of protection in public wherever close contact is unavoidable; this includes entering any open establishment such as a grocery store or pharmacy as well as when engaging in outside physical activity including walking, running or biking.” So I ask: Is this so difficult to abide by? Will people walking, running and riding bikes in public PLEASE wear masks? If we’re “all in this together” then let’s see it please. Respect for your neighbors and your community starts with each of us. Wearing a mask in public is a simple act of respect for each other’s safety and for those who are working so hard to keep us safe, alive, and fed.

    • joshua stein

      Just FYI the rule is actually that one only needs to wear a mask if social distancing cannot be maintained. If one is outside exercising, walking, jogging, walk dog, etc, there is no rule saying they must wear a mask. Its not by default.

  26. Arline Gertzoff

    You do a great job keeping us informed but should not be publishing anonymous stuff
    Speaking to someone gently is fine but it may or may not work .I have gotten everything from thanks to ?? personally.Stay above the fray Dan.Shaming is not the answer . As already stated the paper stopped anonymous and pseudo names long ago .Uplifting pictures and articles are a lot more meaningful.Good luck

  27. Michelle Benner

    Joshua Stein, people can’t and don’t socially distance on Hillspoint Road where there are so many people using it at the same time. There’s a sidewalk on one side of the road only, people use it going both directions, and bikers and joggers without masks pass people coming from both in front and behind. I see it all the time. And yes, there is a rule. See my comment above and see the town’s message on Friday 4/24/20. Here it is again: “The Governor’s Executive Order 7BB requires cloth face coverings or higher level of protection in public wherever close contact is unavoidable; this includes entering any open establishment such as a grocery store or pharmacy as well as when engaging in outside physical activity including walking, running or biking.” The decent thing to do is wear a mask in public for the safety and respect for all, especially when breathing heavy while exercising and passing so close to people on your way. And especially when you know there will be many others like yourself trying to enjoy a safe walk outside? Why are people so opposed to engaging in this simple act of social morality??

    • key words ” in public wherever close contact is unavoidable” so again, it need not be worn outside by default. there are actually risks while wearing face coverings. people are passing out behind the wheel of cars because of these homemade/fake masks. have to be very careful what material you have covering your face so you dont suffocate. further, there are studies showing a face covering may actually be worse than wearing nothing at all – in the sense that virus goes right in past the cloth, can create a warm environment, and things like bacteria can multiply. also, if someone is infected and exercising, the virus is likely to go right through a home made/fake mask and into the air. some droplets may be stopped but its injected into the air other ways. i will not be wearing any covering while exercising. in my eyes, the cons simply outweigh any possible benefit. but i also try to keep 20-30+ feet from anyone else when i am not wearing my full face respirator.

  28. You do a great job, Dan, and I hear you about anonymity. People should be heads-up enough to confront people on their own. As an assertive woman, I often do but often get nasty responses. That doesn’t stop me! I once followed a car of teenagers after one of them threw an empty cigarette pack out of the car. When I caught up with them at the light, I said, “I think you dropped something out of your car and need to turn around and pick it up.” After calling me the “b” word, I said, OK, 379KZ (license plate number), I’m on my way to the police station.” They turned around, and I followed them back to the trash where they picked it up.

  29. As a follow up to my comments, here is a study about social distancing, specifically for runners and joggers about to be published reported by The NYTimes. Thought it could be helpful for all of us.

    • And in the very same article: “Reassuringly, “there is no empirical evidence that runners or bikers are a point source of infection,” says Dr. Dean Winslow, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and an infectious disease specialist, who reviewed the new modeling study at my request.”…

      So maybe not worry so much about passing someone in the street, with or without facemask.

  30. Michelle Benner

    Here’s another article published by the NYT, on April 10 called “Exercising Outdoors with a Facemask”

    Quote from the article:
    “Even so, most of us probably should cover our faces while we exercise outside. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone now wear a mask of some kind when they leave home, and some municipalities require a facial covering if you are outside. Masks also could reassure people with whom you share paths or sidewalks while running and who, in my experience, have started to shy away when we runners pant by.”

    So AM HOLM, while there is no empirical evidence just yet, remember that info changes every day on this subject, and more importantly, wearing a mask shows you care about the safety and health not only for yourself and your family but for your community and your neighbors.

  31. Wendy Cusick

    Just a reminder to all, especially parents with young children, who ride bicycles while on the road. Do to the fact there’s less traffic on the road more people are out and about on foot or on wheels.
    Please, parents don’t let the child ride the bicycle on the right or wrong side of the road in the middle of the travel lane. Please stay closer to the edge of the road out of harms way or on the sidewalk. You never know what’s coming….
    There was a very close call on the corner of Evergreen and Myrtle which is a blind curve.
    The child was bicycling, with mother jogging behind, coming northbound on Myrtle toward Avery on the wrong side of the road in the middle of the travel lane. The car was coming southbound on Myrtle and thankfully, the driver was able to swing quickly out of way.
    This also goes for walkers and bicyclist in training don’t walk or ride 2 or 3 abreast which blocks the flow of traffic.
    Please, don’t give the driver a nasty look. You’re interfering with the right of way.
    Again, you never know what’s coming it’s not just cars and trucks it could be a first responder making their way to a call.
    (Evergreen already had a tragedy back in 1991. Let’s not add to it please)

  32. Hey Dan,
    It is your blog. People who like to complain about others should talk to them!! Been in this situation many times. So many complaints, so little personal response. Let it go. Not your job.!!