Timeline: Westfield responds to COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo by Caroline Dwyer

Closed playground at Tamaques Park

Caroline Dwyer, R1 Sports Editor

The global pandemic known as Coronavirus took an exponential turn for the worse beginning the week of March 9. Seemingly every hour, a new headline surfaced as organizations around the nation postponed and canceled events in hopes of stopping the spread of the disease. 

College after college announced that students would be sent home and finish the semester with online learning. Travel bans brought chaos as Americans hurried to return home from overseas. The shelves of grocery stores were instantly bare as citizens around the nation prepared for quarantine. Sports fans around the world saw that with each refresh of their phones, the NBA’s season would be suspended, March Madness would be canceled, all NCAA spring sports seasons would be postponed, the NHL’s season would be postponed and more. 

With the nation and world responding to the ever-heightening crisis, how has the community of Westfield taken measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19?

On March 12, one of the first major developments occurred in the afternoon of the school day at WHS: administration postponed the theater department’s performances of Chicago: High School Edition just hours before opening the curtain. “We were all devastated to hear that the show was being postponed,” said cast member and senior Alex Sica. “But after the initial shock, we all understood how it was a necessary precaution that would keep everyone who would have come to the show and our community safe.”

On March 13, Westfield Public Schools (WPS) Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan announced through an email to parents and staff that after discussions with the Union County Executive Superintendent and with the Westfield Regional Health Department, all WPS would be closed until further notice beginning March 16; with the cancellation of school also came the cancellation of all athletic events and extracurricular activities. 

WHS Principal Mary Asfendis is confident in the students and staff with the transition to remote learning. “The difficulty with this situation is that it is changing very rapidly. I think if you would have asked any of us about this last week, we would have never imagined this,” said Asfendis. “What I would say to all students and staff is that we are trying something new. There are going to be some hiccups, but if you are having a problem or concern, don’t hesitate to reach out to your teacher, assistant principal or guidance counselor. I think the only way this is going to be successful is with communication.”

Senior Captain of the boys lacrosse team Colin Freer expressed how difficult the news was to hear in his final year at WHS: “Obviously the news was devastating for our team, coaches and all spring sport teams throughout the school. Being a senior, it hurts even more knowing that each week that goes by is one week closer to not only our season being over, but our high school athletic careers being over. There’s a saying ‘take every practice like it’s your last’ and that has become a reality now.”

On March 14, Regional Health Director Megan Avallone confirmed the first case of Coronavirus in Westfield, as announced by Mayor Shelley Brindle. Brindle strongly urged all members of the community to practice self-isolation in order to avoid exposing others to the virus. 

Sophomore Matt Swenson was fearful after hearing the news of the first COVID-19 case in Westfield. “It now just feels way too close to home, especially because it can easily spread throughout our community due to the highly contagious nature of the virus,” said Swenson.

On March 15, Mayor Brindle announced to the community that the town would be closing foot traffic to all non-essential businesses in downtown, with the exception of pharmacies, health care providers and grocery stores. Brindle said in a statement, “I recognize how difficult this is for our businesses, but in consultation with various professionals, it is clear that we cannot afford to wait any longer to further mitigate the spread of this pandemic.”

Sophomore Michaela Cortese was understanding of Brindle’s mandate to close foot traffic in Westfield. “I wasn’t surprised by the closures, as my boss at my workplace was planning to close before the announcement,” said Cortese. “I believe it was necessary for certain businesses to close to ensure that there aren’t large concentrations of people in establishments that aren’t necessary for survival.”

On March 16, Governor Phil Murphy made an executive order to close all restaurants and bars for eat-in service, casinos, movie theaters and gyms. Additionally, he highly encouraged all residents of New Jersey to adhere to a curfew between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.

On March 17, Murphy asked President Donald Trump to construct temporary hospitals across the state with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps. He has also mandated that all indoor shopping malls, amusement parks and amusement centers are to be closed as well.

On March 18, Mayor Brindle held a Facebook Live session to answer questions from citizens around the community. Brindle continued to reiterate the importance of social distancing, as many concerned citizens had reached out to her about gatherings they had seen in their neighborhoods.

Among the concerned citizens was WHS senior Katie Hynes, who said, “I’ve noticed that so many people are still going out, so I emailed her a few days ago urging her to put out a statement and tell community members to stay home. The only way we can stop the spread of this virus is by following the advice given to us by medical professionals and those working beside them.”

Most recently on March 19, Brindle announced that there are 742 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in New Jersey, with 33 cases in Union County and 7 cases in Westfield. Murphy ordered that all personal-care businesses and social clubs, like hair salons, spas, nail salons and more, are to be closed. Brindle also stated that the Westfield Police Department began checking restaurants downtown to ensure that they were following the mandates of Murphy, and Community Service Officers would begin monitoring parks to make sure that residents are properly practicing social distancing.

As rapid developments occur each day, it’s crucial to stay informed and safe during this time of uncertainty; head over to Mayor Brindle’s Facebook account to receive daily updates about news occurring in Westfield regarding COVID-19.