Category Archives: Library

Library Closed Until Further Notice


Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer says:

The health and well-being of our patrons and staff is the highest priority of the Westport Library. On Thursday, we made the decision to close our doors in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Other libraries in the state also acted and now nearly all are closed.

Over the past few days, I attended meetings at Town Hall to work with local health officials on developing a plan for how the community could mitigate and contain the virus.  I have talked to friends who work in hospitals and had an ongoing dialogue with the library’s board of directors.

The library hired a cleaning company to do a 2-day deep disinfectant of the building, top to bottom.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

All evidence points to the fact that things are going to get worse before they get better. The virus is likely to spread exponentially and our infrastructure, especially doctors’ offices and hospitals, are woefully unprepared to handle the onslaught that is coming.

The question for every institution, business, or school is not whether we should do something, but rather what the best course of action is.

For me, containment and mitigation are the answers. The only way to truly reduce the spread of the virus is through social distancing.  We did not believe that social distancing could be achieved by keeping the library open.

Therefore, we have decided that the library will remain closed until further notice.  Our book drops will also be closed, and we are waiving all late fees on Westport owned materials.

The library offers extensive downloadable and streaming digital resources, eAudiobooks, eBooks, eMagazines, music, movies, and many other entertaining and educational resources are available to all cardholders. Click here for links to the digital collection.

During the closure, we will continue to provide email support: for tech assistance visit support@westportlibrary.org; for reference questions ref@westportlibrary.org; for the children’s staff kids@westportlibrary.org, and for account assistance circulation@westportlibrary.org

A scene we won’t see for a while. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Closings, Cancellations, Postponements: A Partial List

COVID-19 has knocked out everything from the NBA to Broadway.

Westport is not immune. Here’s a list of what’s happening, alphabetically. Feel free to add your organization or event in the “Comments” section below.

A Better Chance of Westport: The Dream Event gala is postponed to May 1 (6 p.m., Rolling Hills Country Club, Wilton).

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church: Closed for 2 weeks. No meetings, church events or classes will be held on the property.

Closing a religious institution is very rare.

EarthplaceClosed until further notice. Trails are open.

Maker Faire: The April event is postponed. A new date will be announced.

MoCA WestportThe gallery and all classes are temporarily closed. The April 25 gala is postponed to a later date.

Positive DirectionsOffering teletherapy options for safe, convenient counseling. Call 203-227-7644.

Wakeman Town Farm: Closed for public events until further notice.

WTF? Everything is closed!

Westport Country PlayhouseCanceled: “the Pout-Pout Fish” (March 15); Connecticut Dance School benefit (March 20); Broadway Method Academy gala (March 21). No decision yet to cancel or postpone events after March 21.  

Westport Library: The library is closed. It will reopen at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 16.

Westport Museum for History & Culture: The museum is closed, and all programming has been suspended through March. Exhibitions are available for viewing online.

Westport Weston Family Y: The Y will close at 10 p.m. today, until further notice.

Westport Public Schools, including Staples Players’ “Seussical”:  All public school buildings and activities are closed, until further notice.

Pic Of The Day #1059

An hour or so after the Westport Public Schools announced they’re closing, Trader Joe’s looked like the day before a snowstorm. Or “The Day After.” (Photo/Armelle Pouriche)

Meanwhile, hand sanitizer is in such short supply, the Westport Library took special precautions — plenty of tape — to make sure this supply stayed in the Hub.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Town Officials Offer Latest Information On Schools, Services, Safety And More

The weather outside Town Hall was springlike and beautiful.

The faces on the officials arrayed on the front steps were grim.

First selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Westport Public Schools director of administration John Bayers and others outlined today’s rapid developments regarding COVID-19.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announces the latest COVID-19 news. From left: Fire Chief and town emergency management head Robert Yost; Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper; Police Chief Foti Koskinas; Westport Public Schools director of administration John Bayers; 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker, and 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane.

Last Thursday (March 5), approximately 40 people attended a private party in Westport.

One attendee — a man from an unnamed other nation — was there. He’d been in the US, and was headed home. He did not feel ill.

When he returned to his home country, he developed flu-like symptoms. WWHD officials received verbal notification today that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Of the 40 or so attendees at the party, approximately 14 have since reported flu-like symptoms. “We’re making the assumption it’s COVID-19,” Cooper said. The Health District is compiling a list of all attendees, and assessing their conditions.

“It’s likely many people were exposed,” Cooper said. “And others will be.”

Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper.

The party included school-age children. When education officials learned the news, shortly before noon, they made the decision to close all Westport public schools.

Schools will be closed — along with all related activities — for an undetermined period of time. Meanwhile, deep cleaning of all buildings will begin.

“The schools have been working closely for several weeks with the Health District,” Bayers noted. “Our plans were accelerated today.”

His office will communicate information about next steps for students tonight and tomorrow. More updates will follow, in the days ahead.

Westport Public Schools director of administration John Bayers.

Also closed: Town Hall.

Marpe announced it will be shut tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday. Officials will spend time determining how best to offer essential services to the public, while maintenance staff performs deep cleaning.

All municipal meetings are canceled for “the foreseeable future,” Marpe said. The first casualties: Thursday’s Planning & Zoning and Board of Finance sessions.

Human Services Department head Elaine Daignault noted that — as announced earlier today — the Senior Center is closed. The Toquet Hall teen center is similarly shut.

Senior Center director Sue Pfister (far right) listens to the press conference.

Daignault reiterated that staff will assist anyone, such as seniors and people with financial need, despite the closures. Meals to homebound residents will continue to be delivered. For questions or more information, call 203-341-1050.

“We’ll maintain essential services,” she said, urging Westporters to be “good neighbors” to those in need.

Westport Library director Bill Harmer said that his facility will be closed tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday for deep cleaning. Meanwhile, the staff will devise plans moving forward.

The library will reopen Monday for “essential services” only: book checkouts, and reference questions. Harmer encouraged residents to use the library’s extensive digital resources.

Print and television reporters kept their distance from each other, at the press conference on the steps of Town Hall. (Photos/Dan Woog)

The Parks & Recreation Department is limiting the use of fields. The goal is to “avoid gatherings,” Marpe said.

Marpe called the COVID-19 crisis “a constantly evolving situation,” then asked for questions.

In response to one about the availability of test kits, Cooper said that the Health District has been told, “they’re coming.”

Marpe has spoken with Governor Ned Lamont about the issue.

“He’s as frustrated as we are that the kits are not available yet,” the first selectman said. “He’s using every technique possible to get them.”

Marpe reiterated the basic health advice — “wash your hands!” — and noted the importance of avoiding large gatherings.

Private institutions must decide for themselves which events to cancel. “We recognize these are tough decisions,” he said.

COVID-19 Update: Lamont Declares Emergency; Library Cancels Programming; “Seussical” Postponed; State Basketball Tournaments, WIN Canceled

The coronavirus continues to play havoc with Connecticut life.

Gov. Ned Lamont has declared both a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency.

The first edict gives the state power over quarantine. The second allows the governor to restrict travel, and close public schools and buildings, among other powers..

Right now, however, Lamont says that decisions about school closings and large gatherings are being made by local government and public health officials.


The Westport Library will postpone or cancel all “in-person programming” through the end of March. Some events may be live-streamed — as was Sunday’s public meeting on the COVID-19 virus.

The Spring Book Sale scheduled for this weekend has also been canceled. The summer book sale will be held July 18 through 21, at a new location: Staples High School.

Right now, the library plans to remain open for patrons, and is “extra vigilant” about cleanliness.

Executive director Bill Harmer encourages users to take advantage of the library’s “extensive downloadable and streaming digital resource, eAudiobooks, eBooks, eMagazines, music, movies, and many other entertaining and educational resources are available to all cardholders.” Click here for links to the digital collection.


Staples Players’ production of “Seussical” — scheduled for a 2-week run, beginning this weekend — has been postponed until April 24 and 25 (matinee and evening shows) and April 26.

Ticket holders will be contacted by the box office within the next few days regarding transitions or exchanges.

“We will work as quickly as we can to respond to patrons, but we ask the public to be patient,” say directors David Roth and Kerry Long.


The actors and tech crew — who have dedicated themselves to the show since December — are not the only Staples students disappointed by the effects of the rapidly spreading virus.

Wrecker basketball players were stunned today to learn that the Connecticut State Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled the boys and girls state tournaments. (Click here for a video of the announcement.)

Both Staples teams were having their best seasons in decades. Last night, the girls beat Glastonbury to advance to the semifinals. The boys were set to begin their tournament this evening, home against Enfield.

It’s an abrupt ending for both squads.


Meanwhile, the Westport Soccer Association’s WIN tournament — for over 30 years, the kickoff to the spring season — has been canceled too.

The event — which draws over 160 boys and girls teams to indoor and outdoor fields at Staples High and Bedford Middle Schools — is a fundraiser for the Coleman Brother Foundation.

Over the years, it has collected and donated more than $100,000 in scholarships.


The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — which looks out for the interests of local businesses — has forwarded a CDC document: “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers/Plan, Prepare and Respond to Coronavirus.” Click here for the link.

Town’s COVID-19 Forum: Many Questions. Lots Of Answers. Much Unknown.

A small, well-spaced-apart crowd was joined by many more online participants this afternoon. They gathered, in real space and cyberspace, to hear from experts about the looming threat from COVID-19.

The Westport Library event — called “a forum in the Forum” by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — provided plenty of detailed information. Presentations were clear and cogent; questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful; answers were direct and honest.

It was a powerful display of active, coordinated town leadership on many levels, and a reminder that good government has a powerful place in society.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (far right), and today’s COVID-19 panel at the Westport Library.

The key takeaways, from Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, fire chief and director of emergency management Robert Yost, Westport Public Schools health services supervisor Suzanne Levasseur and others:

It is virtually inevitable that COVID-19 will come to Westport. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” Our population is too mobile, and the virus is too relentless. In fact, it may already be here.

Town officials — including the 1st Selectman, Health District and public schools — are in constant contact with the state and CDC. Conversations are frequent, ongoing and productive.

There are dozens of “what-ifs.” No one knows how many people will be affected or how. Planning is taking place to cover many scenarios.

The best precautions include rigorous hand-washing, frequent cleaning of surfaces, and careful monitoring of surroundings and contacts. Plus, self-monitoring. And save face masks for health care providers and people who are already sick.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left), who co-chairs the Legislature’s Public Health Committee, and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe demonstrate the best way to say hello, COVID-19-style.

If you feel ill but have not traveled to somewhere affected, are not in a high-risk category, or had contact with someone who is ill, contact your health care provider.

If, however, you have traveled to a high-risk area, or are in a high-risk category (elderly or immuno-compromised), contact the WWHD (www.wwhd.org; 203-227-9571).

The Westport Schools are being very proactive. This includes enhanced cleaning; education about the disease and proper hygiene procedures. and monitoring of student health. Nurses are on heightened awareness; there are signs, videos and plenty of soap and sanitizers in every school. Discussions are “ongoing” about things like field trips.

Here are some of the key questions from audience members and online participants — and the answers:

Should people over 60 be particularly worried? Those in this higher-risk group should follow CDC guidelines to limit exposure — particularly people with underlying health issues.

Where is testing being done? Right now, only in hospitals.

The in-person audience was small. But many more residents viewed the forum on the Westport Library’s streaming feed and Facebook page.

How is the Senior Center handling this? Director Sue Pfister said that, thanks to the day and night custodians, “it’s never been cleaner.” There are wipes and signs throughout the building, with an information table out front. “We are operating as normally as possible,” she said. “We are monitoring and educating, without panicking.” Clients are self-monitoring too, and not coming in if they don’t feel well. The staff is making contingency plans for meals for people who depend on the Center, in the event of closure.

Can we trust the CDC? Cooper said the organization is filled with excellent scientists, who are coordinating with colleagues around the world.

Who decides if schools will close? The superintendent — though Governor Lamont could make an emergency declaration. The cause could be infected students or staff, or as a preventive measure to avoid further spread. Daycare centers are also making contingency plans. Marpe noted that because many teachers — and other town employees — live elsewhere, decisions on closing are “complex.” For that reason, they may be made on a regional or statewide basis, rather than town by town.

What about budget implications? Marpe said he and the town’s legal staff are examining the implications of not being able to meet publicly for discussions  — though public meetings are mandated for things like budget decisions.

What about Metro-North? They have enhanced their cleaning procedures — and have seen a drop in ridership. The most at-risk riders should think about using alternative travel methods.

What about restaurants? Owners should check the CDC for checklists. Clorox solutions are the best way to clean. The WWHD will send owners detailed information, if the risk increases.

What about gyms, fitness centers and the Y? They are no more (or less) at risk than other gathering places. Most places seem to be wiping their equipment well; users can do the same.  “Social distancing” is important, as is good hygiene. There is no evidence that the virus is spread by sweat; it is spread through coughing, sneezing, and on surfaces.

What about Westport business with many employees who live elsewhere? Some are encouraging them to work from home. Bridgewater, for example, has taken the virus “extremely seriously.” They are in contact with the WWHD, and have limited travel by their employees.

Do Westport’s first responders have enough equipment? Yost says we have been very proactive. And if the situation goes on for a very long period of time? “Probably.”

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff were out in force at today’s COVID-19 forum.

Anything else we should know? Our emergency responders and the Health District are watching everything carefully — and everything else too. “We could have severe weather tomorrow that takes out power to everyone,” one panelist said. “We’re preparing for that too.”

In conclusion: Every action has a reaction. We don’t know what the reaction to all this will be, but town officials are planning assiduously and relentlessly. As for the tipping point of this pandemic: “We don’t know when it will come. But we do know it won’t disappear. We’ll keep watching, offering information, and making recommendations.”

The best sources of information:

Sunday Coronavirus Forum: How To Watch From Home

When town and local health officials announced they’ll hold a public meeting on the coronavirus tomorrow (Sunday, March 8, 12 noon, Library Forum), many Westporters breathed a sigh of relief.

Others wondered why there’s an open forum about a disease that could be passed along in large gatherings.

Fear not.

The event — which includes 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Fire Chief Robert Yost (Westport’s director of emergency management); Suzanne Levasseur (Westport Public Schools health supervisor) and others — is available remotely.

The meeting can be viewed live on the library’s website. It will also be livestreamed on the Westport Library Facebook page. 

If you do venture out in public: The Library opens at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Persona Of The Week: What Is “Happiness,” Anyway?

With threats of global pandemics, jittery stock markets and too much political debate on social media, many of us may feel challenged to feel happy.

But what is “happiness” anyway? And since when have we even felt entitled to pursue it?

hat was the topic of this week’s Persona Live interview at the Westport Library with Dartmouth College history professor Darrin McMahan, author of “Happiness: A History.” Click below to watch:

 

Next Monday’s interview (March 9, 6 p.m., Westport Library Forum) features Westporter Nathalie Jacob, author of “8: Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor.”

This and all “Persona Live Westport” interviews are also available on the Persona interview app, currently available in beta for iPhones. You can download the app (iPhone only) here.

[UPDATE] Townwide Coronavirus Forum Set For Sunday

Earlier today, Costco looked like the day before a snowstorm. People stocked up on pasta, bottled water, and anything else to get them through a siege.

As the coronavirus — or its fear — continues to spread, town officials have organized a public forum. All Westporters are invited.

Set for this Sunday (March 8, 12 p.m., Westport Library), it’s organized by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Westpoort Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, and library executive director Bill Harmer.

Besides Marpe and Cooper, speakers include Fire Chief Robert Yost (Westport’s director of emergency management); Suzanne Levasseur (Westport Public Schools health supervisor), and representatives from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and George Washington University.

Marpe says, “It is important to hold this public information session in order to share the latest information that town and Health District officials have about COVD-19, and how residents can prepare and protect themselves in the event of a local outbreak.”

The forum will also include information on a potential townwide response, involving facilities and community activities.

PS: If you can’t get there — or don’t want to gather in public — the event will be livestreamed. Click here to view.

Persona Of The Week: Lindsay Czarniak And Marysol Castro

This week’s “Persona Live Westport” interview featured Lindsay Czarniak of ESPN and Fox Sports talking about sports, media careers and motherhood with Marysol Castro, the first Latina PA announcer in Major League Baseball (New York Mets). Both are Westport residents. Click below to watch.

This coming Monday (March 2, 6 p.m., Westport Library Forum), the Persona Live interview features Westporter Darrin McMahon, Dartmouth professor of history and author of “Happiness: A History.” He and Persona founder Rob Simmelkjaer will discuss the origins of happiness as a concept, and how people have come to view happiness not just an possibility but an earthly entitlement — even an obligation.

This and all “Persona Live Westport” interviews are also available on the Persona interview app, currently available in beta for iPhones. You can download the app (iPhone only) here.