Tag Archives: COVID

Scarice Updates Town On Security And COVID

Last night, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent this message to the community:

Safety and Security: It is troubling to consider that the only period of time void of school shootings occurred during the remote learning and full quarantine in the spring of 2020. Again yesterday, another unspeakable act of school violence took the lives of 4 innocent children in Michigan. In Connecticut, there were reports of a prop gun in one high school, a stabbing just outside another high school, and a bomb threat in a neighboring district. These events are an unfortunate and heartbreaking reminder of the world our children are growing up in.

In Westport, our vigilance in keeping our students safe is resolute, and does not ebb and flow based on such tragedies. We are fortunate to have a strong partnership with our local police department, including regular patrols of a dedicated officer on our campuses, in addition to a full time School Resource Office at our high school.

Additionally, each school is staffed with full-time security personnel, and equipped with cameras and communication systems. Furthermore, our administrative team conducts regular drills to keep our faculty, staff and students fluent in procedures to maintain safety in the event of an emergency.

Finally, our increased focus on proactive measures to build community, while addressing emotional and mental wellness, serves to meet the needs of all of our students in providing interventions to those in distress. However, we count on our families to partner with us in open two way communication as no one knows your child better than you. Together, we can work to celebrate our students in the best of times, and support them in the most challenging of times.

COVID Update: Less than one month ago I shared with our families that COVID infection rates had hovered at levels we had not seen since May. In those few short weeks we have seen an increase in infections in the region, and the warning of the Omicron variant. There is much to learn about how this variant might, or might not, impact our community.  his is precisely why approaching the school year in 4-6 week increments is important.

Fortunately, hundreds of 5-11-year-olds have been vaccinated in town, or are receiving their second shot, in addition to the high rate of vaccination among our staff, secondary students, and the community at large.

State Senator Will Haskell and Long Lots Elementary School nurse Max Zimmer, at last month’s vaccination clinic for 5-11-year-olds, at Staples High School. (Photo/Dan Woog)

K-6 Weekly Serial Testing: With these developments, we will continue to administer our K-6 weekly voluntary serial testing program through the end of the calendar year at a minimum. Given transmission rates at that time, we will reassess the program and make considerations for the new year.

Lunch and Dismissal: Students have returned to the cafeteria for lunch with some schools making modest exceptions based on sizes of individual grade levels. We continue to distance to the maximum extent possible. Additionally, each school, particularly at the elementary level, revised dismissal procedures to determine the most efficient way to release students to parents who are not taking the bus.  Each school has a slightly different dismissal procedure based on a variety of factors (i.e. driveway capacity, traffic flow, etc.).

Vaccination Requirement for School Visitors:  Since the beginning of the school year we have required proof of vaccination for school visitors.  Additionally, the governor used his executive powers to mandate vaccination for all employees with the provision of legal exemptions. We will continue to require vaccination for school visitors but we will employ the same approach for unvaccinated visitors as we do for unvaccinated employees. Effective immediately, we will require evidence of a negative COVID test within 72 hours prior to visiting our schools for unvaccinated visiting parents and caregivers.

School Performances and Concerts: It is the time of year for school concerts and performances. When rates plummeted last month we were able to welcome audiences with 100% capacity. With the recent increase in infection rates, the Westport/Weston Health District and our medical advisor, Dr. Norman Wienberger, have both asked that we limit audiences to accommodate appropriate distancing between family units. Some schools might use alternative venues to accommodate all parents. Your child’s school principal will provide additional information on this topic.

We continue to recommend and expect all visitors will be vaccinated or test negative for COVID within 72 hours of attending a school concert or performance. Although we do not have the resources to check individuals upon entry after hours, it is an expectation and I am confident that our families will honorably respect this requirement.

This year’s Candlelight Concert will include audience and other restrictions. It may look different from this 2020 performance — but the 81-year tradition continues.

Universal Masking: The Governor’s universal masking mandate for schools remains in effect through February 15. It is possible, based on vaccination and infection rates, that the Governor will revisit this provision after the New Year.  In the interim, we will maintain universal masking.

Modified Quarantine Procedures “Screen and Stay”:  =We have successfully implemented the new quarantine procedures, “Screen and Stay” in the past month for students identified as close contacts. Vaccinated students and staff are not required to quarantine.

We will continue to monitor conditions as we flexibly employ mitigating measures in response to the pandemic. While rates have increased recently, I want to assure our families that throughout the entire pandemic, like most school districts, we have experienced little to no virus spread in our schools.

Thank You, Jim Marpe!

This is Jim Marpe’s final day as 1st selectman.

Tonight at 7:30, Jen Tooker will be sworn in as Westport’s 1st selectwoman. She was Marpe’s deputy for the past 4 years, but she’ll bring a new style and tone — and perhaps some new policies — to the job.

Yet before Marpe hands over his key (or swipe card, or however else he gets into Town Hall), let’s pause and say “thanks!”

Jim Marpe, at last May’s Memorial Day parade. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Thank you, Jim, for coming out of retirement — after a career at Accenture — to bring your managerial and organizational skills to Westport.

Thank you for overseeing every aspect of town — business and residential; police, fire and EMS; transportation; recreation, and so much more — with professionalism and expertise. You always had the best interests of our community at heart.

Thank you for handling too many weather emergencies — blizzards, wind storms, nor’easters, Isaias — with calmness and competence.

Thank you for handling the biggest emergency of all — COVID — well too. We were one of the nation’s first super-spreaders. No leader anywhere knew exactly what to do. An early decision to close the beach created a huge backlash. But the virus never spiraled out of control here. Eighteen months later, we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In early March 2020, 1st Selectman Marpe convened a panel at the Westport Library to discuss the coming threat of COVID. Mask wearing had not yet become mandatory. Four days later, Marpe shut the town down.

Thank you for keeping our mill rate so stable. The state and nation has been whipsawed by economic volatility. But throughout the Marpe administration, our taxes have been remarkably low. (Don’t believe me? Ask friends in neighboring towns — or Westchester or Long Island.)

The first selectman does not have direct control over education. But thank you for your previous service on the Board of Education. Our school district is in great shape. Thank you for all you have done to keep it that way.

Thank you for being always present, all the time. You joked about the oversized scissors you bring to every new store and restaurant ribbon cutting. But your presence touched every part of Westport.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (2nd from left) proclaims Pizza Month in Westport.

You were there for so many of my own events: our annual “06880” party at Compo, and Staples boys soccer team car washes and banquets (even though it’s across the border, at the Norwalk Inn).

Many other Westporters have been heartened by your presence too, at their concerts, plays, fundraisers, ceremonies, meetings, you name it. Your presence meant a lot, to all of us.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas, First Selectman Jim Marpe and organizer Andy  Berman bang out pushups at a charity event.

I did not agree with all of your decisions. No one ever does. (Probably not even your wife and constant supporter, Mary Ellen.)

But you always listened carefully, to all your constituents. You treated us all with respect, no matter what our point of view or political party.

Politicians in Washington and Hartford could learn a lot from what you’ve done in Westport. We are a better town for your service.

I’m glad you’re not going anywhere (other than to spend more time with your grandson). I look forward to seeing you around town — and at the “06880” picnic.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe at the 2018 “06880” party.

PS: It may seem that Jim Marpe never took a vacation. But every once in a while, he snuck away. A couple of years ago, he went on a Tauck Tour to Alaska. Robin Tauck was on the cruise. I thought that would make a great story.

But Jim asked me not to say anything. He didn’t want people to know he was not available here, 24/7/365. Now it can be told. 

[OPINION] The Great Unmasking

Allegra Gatti Zemel is a Westport resident of 8 years, and mother of 3. She works in healthcare. In her spare time, she writes about real life.

Real life includes the pandemic. Allegra says:

1st Selecctman Jim Marpe and the Westport Weston Health District lifted the indoor mask mandate on Thursday. That means if you’re vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask at Trader Joe’s, CVS or any other place you frequent on regular (in my case, daily!?) basis.

(There are exceptions. Check local and individual policies.)

Alas, gone are the days of picking up a cantaloupe and trying to assess its ripeness without the telltale aroma at the stem. Pineapples, tomatoes, peaches — I rely on my nose for selecting all of them. Without my sense of smell, over the last 20 months, I’ve arrived home with a handful of duds.  

The blast of coffee aroma that greeted me at Starbucks has been reduced to a mere hint seeping through my mask.

Allegra Gatti Zemel

And remember when you didn’t touch your face or mask without hand sanitizing first? You certainly didn’t lower it. My mask ensured my bubble of safety, for a long time.

But Friday, with the indoor mask mandate just lifted, I liberated the lower half of my face. Here’s what happened.

I toured a friend’s new space, partially renovated for sale but being renovated further, and was overwhelmed by the dampness. My nose smelled wet wood, wet plaster. Not wet paint. I wonder how many new homeowners took their masks off to smell their potential new home.

I got my hair cut in a salon with a hairdresser I’ve seen 3 times in the past 20 months. Any adult with hair remembers the urgency of that first time back in the chair, and the ability to subsequently maintain what just felt like self-care,

Despite our hours together, she had never seen me without a mask. As I sat in front of the mirror she looked at me, really saw me, and said “Oh my goodness – I’ve never seen your whole face. You’re so pretty!”

I blushed, said thank you, and panicked.  Did I have anything in my teeth!? I haven’t worried about that in a while. But as we talked, she got to see my expressions – my reactions, my smiles, my thinking face.

While she painted rows of hair and sculpted an impressive tin foil head piece, my eyes watered from the smell of ammonia. As she masterfully unwrapped my hair and washed it all out, my head tilted back in the sink, sniffer straight up to the air,

I was overwhelmed by the chemicals – familiar, but daunting. Is this the best thing to be putting on my head? My nose was looking out for me again.

I headed to Sono Fieldhouse for pick up (my daughter is playing on a new team in another town this year so I hadn’t spent much time in the field house before masking.

Ripe is not the word. Hordes of sweaty (masked) children and teenagers, hour after hour, increasing with age. They ran, trapped and passed the ball on artificial turf that doesn’t aerate or circulate air under a dome, with not enough windows to open to purge this intense use of space (and the smell that accompanies it(.

It was rank. Musty. Foul.  Dare I say putrid?  Let’s just say very, very smelly.

Lots of bodies. Not a lot of air circulation.

Then Friday night, as I walked from my car to the sliding door entrance to Trader Joe’s under a dark cold sky, I saw my breath in front of me. I wished I had a face covering for warmth.  

When I got home I called the second person I’d heard that day who had a terrible stomach bug. Isn’t it flu season now?

I remembered my masked hair dresser, who is in nursing school. She said she’ll continue to wear her mask; she lives with her mom, and doesn’t want to bring anything home to her.

I realized: I too will probably continue to wear my mask, for at least a bit longer.  It’s gotten so wonderfully commonplace. Safe.

My nose had a day out, indoors. That was enough for now.

Still, maybe I’ll start lowering my mask from time to time. I’ll smell the good stuff — and the bad — now that I can.

Marpe Lifts Indoor Mask Mandate

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Over the past few weeks, the daily rate of COVID cases in Westport has been trending downward. The town continues to be in the “gray” category (fewer than 5 cases per 100,000). Therefore, in collaboration with Westport’s COVID emergency management team, I am hereby rescinding Executive Orders #9 and #10, and lifting the mask mandate in indoor public settings in Westport, effective immediately.

This is certainly an optimistic trend =- one that we have been anxious to announce. But we continue to be aware of the potential of stronger strains and breakthrough cases that could impact future recommendations. Those who are eligible are strongly encouraged to get fully vaccinated and/or receive a booster.

Masks are no longer mandated in most indoor spaces in Westport. (“Mask Quilt” by Amy Schneider)

Westport Weston Health District director of health Mark Cooper said, “We are in support of this action for those in the lower risk category for severe COVID illness and who have been vaccinated, so long as the local transmission rate remains low. If everyone proceeds with caution and some common sense, we may be able to enjoy the coming holiday season with family and friends in a more traditional manner. For those in a higher risk category for severe COVID illness, masking is still highly recommended because, although the transmission rate is low, the COVID virus is still in the community.”

According to the CT Department of Public Health:

  • Outdoors
    • Masks are not required to be worn by anyone.
  • Indoors: 
    • Vaccinated individuals are generally not required to wear masks.
    • Unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear masks.
    • Masks will still be required in healthcare facilities, facilities serving vulnerable populations, public and private transit, correctional facilities, schools (public and non-public, when students are present), and childcare facilities.
    • Some businesses, state and local government offices, performance spaces, and certain events, may still require universal masking.