First, They Closed the Schools, then the Playgrounds. What's next? March 12-22, 2020

None of us have ever experienced anything like the ongoing spread of the Corona/Covid 19/Wuhan Virus. There is an abundance of information (mixed with false information) online and in broadcast media. It is difficult to keep up with the latest news, figure out what really going on and even more difficult to determine what will happen in the future. Here is a collection of observations and some analysis of how this has affected our local community over the past 11 days. Acton Forum will continue to post similar updates week to week. As always, we welcome contributions from our readers and local writers.

First, two important links to Acton updates:

Acton Civil Alerts

and Boxborough:

Boxborough Corona virus

The term "Social Distance" was introduced to our standard terminology. The appropriate Social Distance is six feet. Hand shaking is no longer socially acceptable.

School was cancelled on March 12. Teachers and staff remain "working from home" and are paid, but struggle to transition to online education.

Childcare industry was essentially shut down from individual care to large facilities leaving parents with limited options even if their workplace remains open.

Many businesses began to encourage or require employees to work at home.

If working from home is not an option (construction, manufacturing, etc.), employers struggle with difficult decisions to cut back hours, lay off employees, cease services, and prepare for the next few weeks.

Colleges and Universities across the region began shutting down and sending students home. This is first implemented by the Ivy League Universities. Professors and technical staff struggle to figure out how to offer courses online. International students are burdened with the difficulties of traveling when travel is discouraged or illegal. Refunds for unused room and board costs remain unclear for many students.

With no school, college, and businesses scaling back, travel and traffic have greatly reduced along with energy demand. This saves on utility costs but does not outweigh the loss in productivity.

Schools provide bagged lunches for qualifying students and families.

The local health care service providers reconfigured and reprioritized operations to brace for an influx of infected patients. Elective surgeries continue to be postponed, and home health care has been disrupted. Elderly people are increasingly isolated from any potential carriers of the virus (everyone is suspect).

Banks restrict public access to the lobby and encourage digital banking and use of the drive-up option.

People on Social Media have jumped into action and offer their unsolicited opinions, share the same posts over and over again, and a relatively small number of individuals in our community step on an even taller soap box than normal and communicate to the rest of us with elite and condescending language.

People began stocking up on household supplies. Toilet paper, paper towels and tissues are purchased at alarming rates. These items remain limited in supply.

Grocery store managers switch from announcing sales over the intercom to explaining disinfection protocol and rules for limiting sale of certain items. Some employees are provided toilet paper as a benefit for being reliable employees. Good managers study up on effective crowd control measures and develop protocol to avoid riots and defuse tense, disappointed customers.

As college students and travelers return home from certain locations, they are restricted to self-quarantine for two weeks. This has a cascade affect on their entire family.

Restaurant and entertainment venues across Massachusetts cease any dine-in services and either close or provide take-out/pick up only.

Restaurant employees' hours are cut or restricted and layoffs are widespread. This also means bathrooms are no longer open to the public.

No live music is devesting to musicians and fans both locally and across the world. Concerts are cancelled.

No theater or dance is a huge loss for the theatrical artists and their fans.

Local service businesses continue to adjust by offering delivery, online consultations and increase hygiene practices.

One outdoor equipment store (Cabela's) is very busy at the firearm sales counter, but sales in other departments are slow.

Some residents venture out to "buy local" to assist their favorite merchants in these difficult times.

Acton and Boxborough limited access to Town services including permit reviews, public hearings, and delay upcoming Town Meetings and elections. This will have expensive and legal implications.

State agencies struggle to provide services online, but many departments are not equipped to allow staff to work at home.

Professional, college and amateur sports were postponed indefinitely. Sports fans are left with minimal options for an escape from reality when its most needed. The entire sports industry is immediately devastated economically and psychologically.

Outdoor recreation increases with more people than ever walking on trails and going for hikes. Many walk on the trails with their phones in front of their faces and if someone wants to pass them on the trail, they announce "I'm trying to do the Social Distancing thing." To those of us who have been walking the trails for years, we are puzzled by this reaction because we never hug, handshake or kiss on the cheek when we pass on the trails. Our preferred social distance is 100-200 feet. Please just walk, provide a salutation and don't remind us of social distancing when we're on the trails because it is a good place to forget about what's going on for a few minutes.

Unattended dog poop bags increased on local trails due to more inconsiderate people in the woods.

All ski areas in the region shut down causing mass layoffs, crushing local economies of many communities, and removing one more healthy escape for the population at large.

Libraries closed to public.

Playgrounds were "closed" but people continue to use them for exercise and fresh air. Team sports are discouraged. Certain people on social media do not hesitate to call the police and complain about anything they see that doesn't fit their definition of safe.

Churches, Synagogues and places of worship attempt provide services online. Congregants mostly agree this is necessary, but it is also incredibly unfortunate for the faithful who rely on their religious community in times of need like this.

Transfer station use (e.g., volume) increased the entire week as people are at home trying to stay busy. However, the Swap Shop and office is not open to the public to minimize. Recycling of Styrofoam food containers has been discontinued.

Parents struggle to put on their brave face for their family, balance home-school activities, work obligations, and stocking up on necessary supplies, all the while being unsure of what the future will bring. Unfortunately, this is nothing like being home for a snow day. Most adults and children are stressed and need more sleep than normal or cannot sleep well at all. Artists do art and are thankful for their passion.

Readers read and expand their knowledge while escaping into and their own imagination guided by the author.

People have increased their entries to their journals or even began journaling for the first time.

Gamers game … more than ever...providing at least an escape and some social interaction through their headsets.

Musicians practice alone and some continue lessons virtually.

Creativity in the kitchens of Acton and Boxborough has increased.

Gyms close, but athletes train individually. Most beach-body ambitions are now on hold.

Pets are receiving more attention than ever and provide much needed comfort to families. Veterinarians have been forced to restrict services.

As we lose our freedoms in exchange for safety, many wonder if politicians will use this crisis to seize more power permanently. Will our local police side with individual citizen's freedoms or directives from state and federal politicians? This will test our county Sherriff, the most powerful law enforcement official in our jurisdiction.

Families spend more time together and realize there is only so much time a person can spend with their family before they need a break from them.

One activity that I'm pleased to report has continued without interruption is observing and documenting amphibian migrations and breeding in one of the earliest breeding seasons on record. Although there are a few of us that go out on our own, there is a larger group that has been helping amphibians across Fort Pond Road on rainy nights with coordination by the Acton and Littleton Conservation Commissions. If you are interested in frogs, salamanders, ecology or conservation biology, here is something for you to consider as a useful escape. Among this disruption, non-human nature carries on and may be temporarily better off in places where the decrease in human activity has improved the habitat and decreased threats to wildlife.

To date, there are 0 Covid 19 infections reported in Acton or Boxborough. Over 500 people have tested positive in the Commonwealth and two died, including one woman from Ayer. By Sunday, March 29 we should know a lot more about the state of this virus in our community, state and nation.

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