Tag Archives: COVID-19

Ari Edelson: Coming Out Of A 2-Week COVID Battle

By this point, nearly everyone in Westport knows someone who has suffered from COVID-19.

And by now, everyone should know that it does not strike only the elderly, or those with underlying health issues.

If you don’t believe that — or don’t think you know someone affected by the coronavirus — think again.

Ari Edelson is a 1994 graduate of Staples High School. After starring with Staples Players — including directing their groundbreaking production of “Falsettos” — and graduating from both Yale and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, he earned international fame as a producer and director in the US and Europe.

A few years ago, Ari Edelson was honored with a Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

On Sunday, Ari — who is in his mid-40s, and has been in excellent health — posted this on Facebook:

Hi, folks. Many of you have been amazing over the last 2 weeks as I dealt with being both home quarantined and put totally through the wringer with COVID-19. I just wanted to share my most heartfelt gratitude as I’m coming out the other side of it.

On March 15, I started having a minor elevated temp and cough, which then fully exploded into 8 days of delirious fevers of 103, coughs, and drenching sweats.

After a 2-week nightmarish battle, I have now been afebrile for 2 days, comfortable and gaining strength.

Julia Levy has been a superwoman through it all, not only taking care of me, but also somehow also keeping Eliot and Leo on their best behavior, coordinating care with my father (my forever medical hero), not to mention coming up with home school ideas for hundreds of thousands of other families through her work at Sparkler and Noggin.

Ari Edelson, Julia Levy and their son Eliot, in 2017.

She is truly phenomenal, as is the rest of my family. I am so thankful to the generous folks at Weill Cornell and Yale New Haven, who provided me and my family desperately appreciated guidance.

I am more than happy to answer questions for anyone, if my experience can be helpful. To one question I am getting already: Even though I went through New York State’s intake process to be tested on March 20, I was never able to get a test, and never even got the promised return phone call.

I cannot blame the state for it — they are more than overrun. But the failure of full national leadership to address this one fundamental issue and own up to it should give anyone pause about how you take care of a populace that you cannot even test.

If you cannot test, you cannot plan, and the data we are all seeing currently is faulty at its core. I will continue to be one of the likely hundreds of thousands of COVID cases that are unreported, an entire quadrant of data that may entirely shift understanding of the disease and our planning for it.

One other thing that we learned through this process was the importance of acquiring a pulse oximeter, a tiny little finger meter used to measure 02 circulation. With consistent use it kept us on top of this horrible virus as best we could, highlighting my luck in maintaining sufficient lung function and providing the light and sanity that kept us focused on convalescing and not taxing precious healthcare resources.

We were lucky that my O2 levels never went beneath the 92% threshold, but having the tools to monitor them made all the difference. If I can recommend anything to the many of you who have yet to have this virus hit your house, it is to say that knowledge is power, and science is to be heeded and trusted. Science is real.

And go get yourself a pulse oximeter to be safe.

And then — proving the coronavirus could not conquer his sense of humor — Ari posted this:

COVID-19 Roundup: Small Businesses And Loans; Face Masks; Realtors; $1200 Checks; Good Deeds; Podcasts; More

The Staples High School Gridiron Club has a great idea.

They emailed all members, reminding them of the many local businesses that supported them over the years with donations to fundraisers, ads in program books and (much) more.

Now is the time to pay it back. “Please take every opportunity to support our sponsors by purchasing their goods and services whenever and wherever possible,” they say. They included a list of dozens of sponsors, just as a reminder.

Think how many Westport organizations have been helped by local merchants. If you know of someone who donated to your cause in the past — well, what are you waiting for?

ASF often contributes to local fundraisers. You can shop online to help them — and many other merchants — now.


Jennifer Hrbek reports that Yale New Haven Health desperately needs hand sewn masks.

Click here for a pocket pattern. Donations can be mailed to Yale New Haven Health (Attn.: PPE Donations), 600 Derby Ave., West Haven, CT 06516. They can also be dropped off there Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

You can donate sewn masks that do not follow the pocket pattern too. YNHHS will pass them on to homeless shelters.

Jennifer and her friend, Bedford Middle School teacher Caroline Davis, have been making masks regularly. “They’re desperately needed. And working on them with kids is a great way to teach life skills,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer Hrbek, with sewing machine and mask.


Connecticut’s 0% interest loan program for small businesses and non-profits with fewer than 100 employees is great.

Unless you’re on the list of prohibited applicants.

You’re ineligible if you are “involved in real estate, multi-level marketing, adult entertainment, cannabis or firearms.” You also cannot be a state elected public official or state employee.

I understand the possible conflicts of interest around state officials and employees. But it seems to me the other groups listed have just as many small business worries as any restaurant, market, gift shop or toy store.

And realtors? I can’t imagine there were any open houses last weekend — or will be, over the next few weeks.


Amy Messing writes: “My husband and I plan to donate whatever we get from the government to help during the crisis. Other people may be moved to do the same.

“Do any local fundraising efforts distribute money to restaurant workers, small businesses and others in need? Also, are there any needs for volunteer help that you can identify?”

There are many. This morning, Westporter Stephanie Webster’s great CTBites.com featured a list of many restaurant funds. Click here to see (and note that locally it includes both Match Burger Lobster and Artisan).

I told Amy that I’d crowd-source others. Please click “Comments” below, and let us all know your favorite fundraisers and volunteer opportunities.


One positive side effect of the coronavirus: crime is way down.

I’m on the email list for regular updates from the Westport Police. Usually, the list of arrests for things like distracted driving and speeding is 6 or 8 pages long.

This morning there was just 1  (for “failure to obey control signal.”)

Often too there are 4 to 6 “custodial arrests” (aka lockups), for crimes like domestic violence, larceny and sexual assault.

For the last week, there have been none.

Nice to know that even criminals are self-isolating.


This weekend Elise, Penelope and Daphne Eisenberger painted hearts and positive messages on rocks they, their dad Nico and mother Robin Bates collected at Burying Hill Beach. 

Yesterday they put them (in places no one would need to touch) by the entrances to Westport EMS, the police station, Greens Farms fire station and post office, their pediatrician’s office and a few other spots. They saw similar signs around town.

“It won’t stop anyone from getting sick, or make anyone better who is,” Nico says. “But we hope it’s helpful in some small way to those who work hard to keep us all safe.”

Coincidentally, just a few minutes before I published this piece, I got an email from EMS deputy director Marc Hartog. He writes about those stones:

“We don’t know who placed them there or when, but everyone here is incredibly moved that someone, or some group, thought about us and wanted to show their support.

“This is another example of everyday people doing whatever they can during this crisis, even just to boost the morale of our personnel on the front lines. We wish we could thank them, let them know that this gesture is so appreciated. Maybe if you post this, even though we can’t do it in person, they will know.”

Done. And PS: Now you know!

Elise, Penelopoe and Daphne Eisenberger.


Lauren Braun Costello is making lemonade — more accurately perhaps, lemon tarts or meringue pie — during this time of lemons.

Every day during the pandemic, she’s on Instagram Live with tips and tricks to stretch pantries, and help us feed our families.

Lauren is a classically trained chef, with an impressive CV. Check out itslaurenofcourse.com on Instagram.


Yesterday’s rain did not stop Doris Ghitelman.

The Westporter had to go shopping. So she called 4 high-risk neighbors and friends, and asked what they needed.

“It makes me happy to the core to help,” she says. “There’s always a silver lining 😊🧡”

PS: Nice gloves!


Across the world, John Karrel reports, people are putting teddy bears in all kinds of places: windows. Front porches. Roofs.

The idea is for parents to walk around with their kids, counting as many as they find. It’s a scavenger hunt anyone can help with.

John’s already spotted a couple of teddy bears in Greens Farms. Time to add yours! (And if you don’t have one, plenty of toy stores in Westport can help.)


Every week for decades, the Y’s Men meet to hear intriguing speakers.

COVID-19 has halted that tradition. But the Y’s Men are resourceful and resilient.

They’ve developed a podcast series — and they’re sharing them with the world.

Recent guests included internist Dr. Robert Altbaum and epidemiologist Dr. Pietro Marghello, plus that guy who writes the “06880” blog.

Today John Brandt interviews the CEO of a major wholesale distributor to national supermarkets. He’ll talk about the supply chain.

Click here for all the Y’s Men podcasts.


A former Westporter — now a college professor — is asking her students to interview (by phone or video) someone over the age of 70, with pre-selected questions.

Westporters and non-Westporters who are chatty and game should send names, brief bios and contact info to kochel491@gmail.com by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“At a time when people are lonely and the lessons I’d originally planned seem increasingly irrelevant, I hope this project will be meaningful to both interviewers and interviewees,” she says.


And finally, here’s a gift from Berklee College of Music. It’s been home to a number of Westporters. They’ve chosen well.

#WestportConnected: What A Way To Start The Week!

What began as a little idea — hey, let’s make a video to connect Westporters! — has turned into something big and bold.

And very, very cool.

In just one week, 5 passionate Westporters

  • Honed their concept
  • Put out the word
  • Got submissions, and
  • Created a video that everyone should watch right now. Or at least, within the next few minutes.

The first video — released this morning — shows a wide array of Westporters. Through photos and videos, they provide messages of hope; offers their services as therapists, piano teachers, lawyers, Pilates instructors and Zoom party planners; give thanks to heroes, and talk about pets. There’s even a much-needed dose of humor.

This is the first of several “WestportConnected” videos. I’m sure it will spread like, um, a virus, and many more folks will join in.

Thank you Marcy Sansolo, Darcy Hicks, Lisa Newman, Jaime Bairaktaris and Melissa Kane.

Now click below. Connect. And smile!

Have a message of good energy, love or support? Want to advertise your business’s creative deal? Send along a submission for next week’s video: westportconnected@gmail.com.

Unable To Mourn: A Cemetery Confronts The Coronavirus

Joseph Ariale led quite a life.

A project manager at GE Capital and longtime Norwalker, he did it all: handing out flags at the Memorial Day parade, volunteering at the Oyster Festival, supporting children’s organizations.

He was a golfer and tennis player; a kind, generous and spirited man; a devoted grandfather who never missed a dance recital, sports game or any other event.

Joseph died last week, after battling cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. As a Korean War veteran, he was entitled to a full military funeral. A bugler should have played “Taps,” and presented an American flag to his family.

But Joseph died in the middle of a pandemic. Instead of being mourned by hundreds of family members, friends and fans, there was no celebration of life.

Following CDC guidelines, his burial at Willowbrook Cemetery was limited to 8 people. Pallbearers wore N95 masks.

Mourners and cemetery officials at Joseph Ariale’s burial on Friday.

The coronavirus has changed the way everyone lives. Now it’s affecting what happens even after we die.

Joseph’s final goodbye on Friday was not the only one at the beautiful cemetery on North Main Street, opposite Cross Highway.

A few hours earlier, another tiny crowd said goodbye to Connie Wilds. She earned 2 master’s degrees. She served Western Connecticut State University for over 30 years, as a professor of black studies and dean of student affairs. She sang in her church choir, and was a founder of the Stamford Afro-Democratic Committee.

Her entombment was witnessed by only 5 people — including funeral staff. That left only her son William, and his wife Daisy, to bid their final farewell.

“This is surreal,” William said. “We can’t give my mother a proper sendoff.”

From left: William Wilds; Daisy Wilds and funeral director Karen Graves-Medley of Stamford, at Connie Wilds’ entombment.

Even more sorrowfully, the few mourners must stay 6 feet apart. They can’t hug, or offer a literal shoulder to cry on.

“This is so difficult,” says Danny Amoruccio, manager/sexton of Willowbrook Cemetery Association.  “They’re being stopped from doing what comes naturally to all of us: grieving together.”

Relatives and friends understand, he says. But at a time of intense pain, it’s one more burden to bear.

Daily operations at the cemetery have been whittled down to just sales of property, and scheduling of burials and entombments.

One section of the vast cemetery.

All communication is initiated by phone. There is minimal contact with the family.

The many other usual queries — where is someone buried? can I buy a monument? — are deferred to May, or done impersonally by phone or email.

Many families call just to verify their property. “They want the comfort of knowing that their deed and final plans are in place,” the manager says.

But Amoruccio still has work to do. In fact, recently — during what is normally a very quiet quarter — sales of graves spiked significantly, to 40 per month.

Families are securing property for their elderly parents — or themselves. They tell him directly: “With the coronavirus, we have to be prepared. We don’t want to run around at the last minute, taking care of final arrangements.”

When Amoruccio meets a family to sell property, he now speaks to them — no more than 2 people — outside their car. They follow him to view it, from the comfort of their vehicle.

If they see a property they’d like to purchase, he heads to his office to write up a contract. The family never goes inside. That once-comforting moment is gone too.

The newest section at Willowbrook Cemetery.

This month, Willowbrook completed an extension of its property. Earlier they bought a house on Richmondville Avenue, and razed it. They can now accommodate 500 additional burials, or 100 cremations.

So far, the cemetery has served one family whose loved one succumbed to COVID-19. They’ve received one additional call about a deceased person with the disease.

“We don’t treat them any differently,” Amoruccio notes.

He feels very badly for what mourners go through during this pandemic. “You see the frustration in their faces when it comes to the restriction of mourners” — once 10, now down to 5.

“But they seem to understand it’s for their own good. I hear in Italy, 2 family members are allowed at the burial. Or none — just the funeral director and cemetery staff.”

He is grateful that Willowbrook’s gates are open 24/7. Mourners can visit loved ones’ graves any time. Those who are barred from the burial have, at least, that chance to grieve.

And though dogs are not allowed on the property, Amoruccio sees a dramatic increase in walkers. “Visitors are always welcome to enjoy the peace and solitude here at Willowbrook,” he says.

The cemetery’s “daffodil mile” — the gorgeous rows of flowers fronting North Main Street — will bloom soon. The dozens of flowering trees — which always herald springtime in that part of town — will be even more beautiful and welcome this year.

Willowbrook Cemetery — established in 1847, and partly designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — is a non-profit community resource, Amoruccio notes.

“No one wants to think about an increase in deaths in our area,” he says. “But for me personally, I feel valuable right now. More than ever, we can be available for families at the worst of times.”

Even if death in the age of coronavirus robs those families of one of humanity’s most basic needs: saying a final goodbye.

Coronavirus Takes A Toll On The Merritt

Merritt Parkway, 1:40 p.m., March 29, 2020 (Photo/Jen Greely)

COVID-19 Roundup: Farmers’ Market Supports Vendors; Aid For Small Businesses; Videos, Art, And More

The Westport Farmers’ Market is between seasons. But they never stop helping their shoppers — or their farmers.

At a time when healthy, fresh food is especially important; when supermarket shopping carries risks, and purveyors — like all of us — have been rocked by COVID-19, the Farmers’ Market has a plan.

Just click here. Scroll down; click on a logo to select a vendor (there are 8: Calf & Clover Creamery, Seacoast Mushrooms, Wave Hill Breads, Farmers & Cooks, Two Guys from Woodbridge, Paul’s Custom Pet Food, Herbacious Catering and Ox Hollow Farm).

Place your order. Pay directly on their site, by Wednesday noon.  You’ll receive info about your scheduled pickup time by 8 a.m. Thursday. (Delivery is available too — but only in Westport.)

If you’re picking up, at the appropriate time head to the Winter Farmers’ Market site: Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, 7 Sylvan Lane South. Your order will be bagged and waiting outside. Only the vendor and you will touch your bag.

Bring your own totes, if you’ve ordered several bags. “Bring your patience too,” the Farmers’ Market says. “We will figure this out together.”

Seems like the Farmers’ Market has already figured out most of it. Now all we have to do is order — and thank them, and their awesome farming partners.


Alert reader Marshall Kiev passes along a great summary of the relevant small business relief portion of the recently enacted CARES Act.

“This relief package should be an important  lifeline to many small businesses in Westport – coffee shops, butchers, hair salons, etc.,” he says. “Let’s get the word out to everyone. Many of these businesses are shut down, and owners may not be aware of the available funding.”

Click here to view — then forward far and wide!

Many shuttered Westport businesses can benefit from recent legislation. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)


I’ve written before about Cup of Sugar: the fantastic local group providing deliveries of food, medication and anything else for people in need. (Just click here, then click “Request a Delivery.”)

Nick Ribolla was ready to graduate this spring, from Columbia University. He’s finishing online, but wants to help his home town. He signed up with Cup of Sugar. Still, he is eager to do even more.

He has a lot to offer. He’s sharp, multi-talented, funny and fun. (He’s also got plenty of experience with kids, as a longtime camp counselor).

Nick can help youngsters via Zoom with humanities (“especially English and creative writing”), and Spanish. He’ll also help them manage their workloads. “Whatever I can do, I’ll do,” he says simply.

Call or text: 203-451-9453. And of course, say “gracias.”

Nick Ribolla


The Westport Police Department has put together some great videos. A variety of Westporters (see how many you know!) offer messages — “stay strong!” “keep your distance!” “keep buying local!” — via their Facebook page.

Just search on FB for “Westport Police Department.” Or click here for the latest (with a cameo by yours truly); click here for another, and click here for the first.


Once again, Dr. Scott Gottlieb appeared on a Sunday morning news show, direct from his Westport yard.

This morning, the former FDA commissioner told “Face the Nation” that coronavirus restrictions should remain in place ahead of a “difficult April,” and that the US might have “millions” of cases over the next few months.

Click here for the interview.


Coleytown Elementary School art teacher Deb Goldenberg is working with her colleagues around town to help every school share positive messages — through art, of course.

Students are drawing or making designs, then adding brief ideas like “Spread kindness and love.” They’re encouraged to experiment with patterns and fonts. Messages will be included with the school’s Morning News.


In today’s Persona interview, Jimmy Izzo discusses why shopping local is more important than ever. Click here for a clip, then download the app for the full Q&A.

Jimmy Izzo


And finally, if you’re missing a loved one — well, in a pandemic, just follow doctor’s orders.

PS: Sure, get up and dance. No one’s watching!

Livio Sanchez’s “American Portrait”

Last month, Westport’s Livio Sanchez was chosen to be part of an elite team.

As part of its 50th anniversary, PBS selected 100 videographers and photographers from around the country — 2 per state — to help define what it means to be an American today. The “American Portrait” project will focus on the beliefs, traditions and experiences that make up this vast nation.

Little did Sanchez — or anyone else — know that soon, life in America would abruptly change.

Livio Sanchez

Sanchez — an award-winning editor, producer and director who has worked with top ad agencies, Google, Microsoft, Amazon Studios, Netflix, Nike, GM and the New York Times — quickly shifted gears.

He’d already done 3 stories. Now he’s documenting life during the coronavirus crisis.

PBS has pivoted too. They’re planning a special broadcast. Sanchez’s subjects are being considered as possible leads.

The videos are short, but compelling. Subjects include Stephen “Doc” Parsons and Griffin Anthony. Sanchez met both while playing men’s baseball for the Westport Cardinals.

Also included: Saugatuck Congregational Church Rev. Alison Patton. Sanchez met her and her husband Craig when their sons played on the same Little League team.

A screenshot from one of Livio Sanchez’s PBS videos.

Click below for links to several videos. As we all grapple with COVID-19, these clips provide compelling looks into American life, yesterday and today.

Stephen “Doc” Parsons

Griffin Anthony

(In addition to pros like Sanchez, the PBS series will include submissions from the public. Click here to see the trailer for PBS’ “American Portrait.”)

COVID-19 Roundup: Winslow Park Rules; Virtual Bingo Helps Non-Profits; Keep Your Distance!; Restaurant, Retail News; More

As of yesterday, there were 89 positive cases of COVID-19 in Westport — the smallest daily increase here since the spread was first reported. Norwalk has passed Westport for the most cases in Connecticut (105).

Social distancing appears to be working. Governor Lamont emphasized that again, restricting all social and recreational gatherings to no more than 5 people.

The Parks and Recreation Department institutes these rules at Winslow Park:

  • No off leash areas. All dogs must be kept on leash.
  • Pets must be kept close to the handler.
  • The 6-foot physical distancing protocol is to be followed for people and pets. 

These protocols should be followed everywhere in town, including Longshore. Park.


Reader Stan Witkow reports that a group of Westporters has started a virtual bingo night every Thursday. The winner chooses a non-profit to get the buy-in pot. This week’s beneficiary is Westport EMS.

Over 20 people played last week, from as far as Florida and California. Most met 20 years ago at New Neighbors, Temple Israel and parents’ night at Bedford Middle School.

Even more signed up for this Thursday. Bingo!


A reader writes:

My wife and I walk on our sidewalks and roads. We’re mindful of the 6-foot distancing recommendation, so we’re distressed to encounter people who seem oblivious or apathetic. Young folks seem most careless, though some are mindful. Some older folks are careless too.

Yesterday, a young man running and breathing heavily came up from behind and nearly brushed my shoulder. That single encounter could easily have spread the virus. Unfortunately it was not our only close call.

A reminder: The virus is in the community. We all must avoid spreading it.

Be careful out there!


Nefaire, JoyRide and Haus of Pretty have teamed up on a “self-care bundle.” It  includes a facial, cycling class and blowout.

15% of proceeds go to retail employees across the 3 businesses: estheticians, therapists, cycling instructors, front desk hourly staff and hair stylists.

The bundle can be purchased at www.westportisstrong.com.


In restaurant news, Bartaco is donating 100% of all gift card sales to an employee fund.

And although Bobby Q’s moved from Westport to Norwalk, its heart is still here. They always contribute generously to town causes, like Christ & Holy Trinity Preschool. A reminder: Their smoker is open now, with curbside and delivery service.


Last month, “06880” profiled Ben Saxon. The bright, creative Staples High School 9th grader had just launched a math, robotics and coding tutoring service  for 6- to 14-year-olds.

Schools closed, but Ben hasn’t. He now offers weekly LEGO building, Kano Star Wars programming and Makeblock robotics courses, for 2-3 students each. They’re 1 hour a day, 5 days long, starting on Mondays, all via Zoom Video Conferencing. For details, click here.


The Berniker family has had a tough time during this crisis. Jen is now recovered from a bout with COVID-19. Her husband Eric is at home after an encouraging chest X-ray.

The other day, Jen Berniker interviewed her 6-year-old son Max about the ups and downs of family isolation.

That’s today’s Persona interview (below). Download the Persona mobile app to share your own stories, by interviewing family members and answering questions we’ll be sending around. Tag “6880 Dan Woog” in the interviewee field.


Finally, this has absolutely nothing to do with COVID-19. But it has everything to do with the idea that everything we do matters. Bruce Springsteen took a chance and invited a kid onstage. Look what happened next. So cool!

 

0*6*Art*Art*0 — Week 2 Gallery

Last week, “06880” debuted “0*6*Art*Art*0.”

Every Saturday, we’ll share readers’ artwork. Professional, amateur, old, young  — send us your painting, collage, sketch, photo, sculpture, chalkwork, cartoon, whatever.

The only rule is it must be inspired by, reflective of, or otherwise related to the times we’re going through. We’re all experiencing tons of emotions, and art is a wonderful way to express (and share) them. Email your submission to dwoog@optonline.net.

Here is today’s gallery.

Keep the submissions coming. If yours is not posted yet, be patient. There will be more next Saturday. And, unfortunately, for some time to come.

Joanie Landau’s “Hope” was inspired by Robert Indiana’s “Love.”

Brandon Malin’s medium is photography. The Staples High School senior’s drone shot of downtown Westport — empty at night, in the midst of the pandemic — is striking.

Untitled, Beth DeVoll

Artwork by Merri Mueller’s young Fillow Street neighbors Addie and Nora (ages 4 and 6)

“Compassion” (Miggs Burroughs)

Ellen Greenberg made “The Birds and the Bees” for a friend’s first baby shower (postponed now until after the birth). She dropped it in a sealed bag at her friend’s house. The expectant mom is a beekeeper. “I want her to remember their joy, and the love of all their friends during these challenging times,” Ellen says.

Amy Schneider’s collage expresses how she feels these days.

“Peaceful Valley” (Laura Loffredo, age 8)

“The Low Hum of Anxiety” (Jennifer Sabella)

“Comforting” (Lawrence Weisman)

Julie Van Norden painted this last year. “Prophetic about social distancing,” she says.

Emma Nordberg, age 15, took this photo during the first week of quarantine. “Despite the virus, it’s a beautiful spring,” she says.

Science Olympians Confront Virus

The Staples High School girls and boys basketball teams — both enjoying their best seasons in decades — saw their state tournament hopes suddenly end. No one knows what will happen to spring sports, though that season seems increasingly unlikely.

But Westport athletes were not the only ones whose seasons came to a brutal end, thanks to the coronavirus.

At Bedford Middle School and Staples High, dozens of students were preparing for the state — and hopefully national — Science Olympiad competitions. They, their teachers and advisors had spent hundreds of hours since August researching, designing and studying.

Building on last year’s success — both teams represented Connecticut at the national tourney at Cornell University (for Bedford, the 3rd trip in 5 years) — the squads felt confident.

Last year’s Bedford Science Olympians …

Science Olympians don’t get the publicity or prestige — and certainly not the crowds — of basketball players. But in the highly competitive world of science contests, the Westporters are superstars.

The Bedford program began 9 years ago. Engineering and design teacher Art Ellis is the driving force — the Geno Auriemma of Science Olympiads. He’s assisted by Dr. Daniel Cortright, a BMS science teacher.

This year — with Coleytown students attending Bedford — the middle school teams merged. CMS engineering and design teacher Keenan Grace brought his students on board, with great success.

… and the Coleytown squad.

Science Olympiads consist of 23 events. Each team — usually 15 students — competes in all 23. (This year’s BMS squad included about 75 youngsters. Including various invitational meets, 50 or so got actual competitive experience.)

The events range from building a structure, vehicle or flying object, to tests in areas like geology, meteorology and anatomy, to hybrid, chemistry lab-style activities.

There are activities too like “Crime Busters,” for forensic analysis.

Then there is “Disease Detectives.”

Developed long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, this Science Olympiad event asks students to examine — and solve — disease outbreaks.

At the national high school tournament, the CDC gives an award to the winner of this event — plus an expense-paid trip to its headquarters in Washington, DC.

Many of the middle school Disease Detectives questions have revolved around food-borne illnesses. They’re fairly straightforward to analyze, Cortright says.

From left: Middle school teachers and Science Olympiad coaches Dan Cortright, Kat Nicholas and Art Ellis.

Not long ago, he and Ellis talked about possible tournament questions. They guessed there would be some about pathogens like COVID-19. They started preparing their team for them.

But before they could solve the problem — or at least, address it — the state and national tournaments were canceled.

The Westport Public Schools have moved to distance learning. Activities like Science Olympiad are on hold.

But if anyone can figure out how to adapt to our new reality — and (who knows?) come up with a way to solve or even prevent future disease outbreaks — it’s these young superstars.


In related Science Olympiad news, 4 members of Staples’ team were also involved in the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.

Formerly called Moody’s Math Challenge, it’s certainly challenging. Teams of 5 students represent their schools, using math to solve a real world problem.

They meet outside of school, download the problem, then work together continuously for 14 hours. The winning solution earns a large cash prize for the school.

Staples’ team — including those 4 Special Olympians — worked together on the problem before social distancing began.

This year’s involved electric trucks. Specifically, contestants had to make intelligent decisions about the necessary charging infrastructure is complex, and weigh economic and environmental implications for communities surrounding trucking corridors is essential. Over 750 teams competed.

The Staples Mathworks Challenge team, hard at work.

Click here to see the Staples team’s video — 14 hours compressed into 3 minutes — on Facebook. Click here for more information on the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.