Tag Archives: mask mandate

[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.

COVID: The Business Battle Rages On

It’s been a tough 18 months for all of us.

COVID knocked us to our knees. Westporters lost jobs and businesses. Our kids lost the benefits of in-person school; adults became part-time teachers and full-time counselors. We all lost our sense of security; fearing at times for our lives, we wondered how the world had suddenly gone so askew.

Slowly, we’re emerging from the darkness. COVID is still here, and — particularly among the stubbornly unvaccinated — rampant. We’re learning to live with the pandemic.

But we’re gathering again, in all the places we used to, for work and commerce and pleasure. We’re dining and traveling. We’re welcoming newcomers to town, and their energy makes Westport even more vibrant and wonderful than it was before March of 2020.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. Just ask anyone in the service industry.

The other day, a friend described his recent experiences. He works locally. It doesn’t matter where. His experience is not unique.

He’s exhausted from asking people to wear masks — a mandate that lacks real enforcement power.

He’s tired of asking those with masks to wear them properly. Covering the neck — or even below the nose — will not help stem the virus’ spread.

He’s also tired of trying to change the behavior of the self-centered, pig-headed customers who come into his store. After 18 months, he realizes, they will not listen.

They won’t listen to Dr. Fauci. They won’t listen to the CDC. And they certainly won’t listen to him.

So when I asked him to write an “06880” story about his experiences as a front-line worker, he declined. It’s not worth it, he said.

The ones who are not helping corral the virus have a zillion reasons. “I’m vaccinated.” “I’ll let my immune system work for me.” “It’s my body. Don’t tell me what to do with it.”

The ones who need to read his words won’t, he said. And if they do, they won’t heed them.

They’ll just rage on, berating him and his colleagues. Mocking them. Putting his health in danger, and his nerves on edge.

He has no more strength to tell that story. So I’m telling it instead.

And now — like him in his store — I’ll wait for the abuse.

An anti-mask sign.

Westport’s Mask Mandate: Whose Business Is It?

Some people have wondered about this.

Others have not thought about it at all.

“06880” reader India van Voorhees writes:

“Do you know if there’s any enforcement of the mask mandate here in Westport, and if there are any fines for noncompliance?”

(Masks are currently mandated indoors — including town facilities  and schools — though there are certain exemptions.)

“It seems that, except for supermarkets and drugstores, a lot of businesses aren’t paying attention to the rule.

Masks are once again mandated indoors in Westport. (“Mask Quilt” by Amy Schneider)

“For example, one of the regular employees at Organic Market never wears a mask, and the boss often wears his under his nose. I love that place, and the people there,  but I won’t go in again until the mask mandate is rescinded or COVID is under control.

“Same with the Exxon gas station at 1510 Post Road East. The employees were not wearing masks the last — and I mean last — time I went inside.

“And it’s the same with Hook’d on the Sound. People are in line without masks and employees are behind the counter without masks- even though there’s a sign that says masks are required.

“Employees were wearing masks last time I went down to Joey’s by the Shore, at Elvira’s.”

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

“Is our only option to avoid those places?  Or can something be done?”

It’s a great question. Enforcement of the mask mandate — nationally, throughout the pandemic — has been difficult. The town website page on the subject makes no mentions of consequences, though a link to Governor Lamont’s executive order indicates a fine of $100, and empowers “local health directors, district health directors, and their designees; state and municipal police officers and peace officers” to enforce it. Fines go to the state’s General Fund.

“06880” readers: What do you think?

Should Westport enforce the mask mandate more vigorously? If so, should there be dedicated patrols, or a reliance on citizen complaints? Or is this one of those squishier rules, like picking up dog poop or rolling through stop signs?

Click “Comments” below. And if you’ve had a personal experience involving someone without a mask indoors, please let us know too.