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Five States, Including Rhode Island, Re-join Connecticut’s Travel Advisory

Rhode Island, Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada and Wyoming have been added back to Connecticut’s COVID-19 travel advisory, the state announced today making 33 states from which travel is now restricted.

All five states added today had qualified for the advisory previously before later dropping off. Rhode Island, the lone neighboring state on Connecticut’s list, had been added briefly in early August, then removed a week later.

The other four states had dropped off in recent weeks, as their levels of COVID-19 transmission dipped below Connecticut’s thresholds, before returning today.

No states or territories were removed from the advisory. Visitors from listed states must fill out a travel form upon arriving in Connecticut, then either present proof of a negative coronavirus test or quarantine for 14 days.

Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 – Autumn Begins


Westport Town Offices & Senior Center are closed.
9:31 a.m. – Northern Hemisphere – Autumnal Equinox
2 p.m. – 6 p.m. – Westport Library – Open for limited services
7 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – StoryFest 2020: Then & Now – How History Shapes Stories for the Present
7:30 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  86528881732# – Architectural Review Board

Westport Senior Center YouTube Channel
Westport Library Event Calendar
Westport Library YouTube Page
Earthplace YouTube Channel
Virtual Westport Museum for History & Culture
See more events: Celebrate Westport Calendar

School Start Looking Good Thus Far

By Jarret Liotta

So far, so good …

Despite a case of COVID-19 on the third day of school — which brought a brief shutdown of Coleytown Elementary School (CES) — Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice reported positive progress to the Board of Education (BOE) tonight regarding the opening of school.

“I’m very, very proud of where we are and it’ll only get better,” he said.

“We’re not without challenges,” he said — among them technology glitches and initial delays with student drop-off and pickup — but overall operations appear fluid and continue to improve.

Even the CES virus case, Scarice said, demonstrated that the protocols in place worked effectively, including communication about what was happening.

“Sometimes that’s not fast enough for people, but we have a process we have to employ,” he said, noting that “the communication will continue and will only get better.”

The subject of a full-time return was broached by a couple of board members — at least at the elementary level, as is being planned in some nearby districts — something many parents are asking about.

“I just feel many, many parents are asking where are we in terms of a plan for a potential reentry full-time, starting with the elementary,” Vice Chair Jeannie Smith said, noting she wanted to give them voice, as the question keeps arising.

Scarice spoke theoretically in favor of a return, but repeated that the decision needed to be driven by health and safety issues, “not driven by loudest voices.”

Regarding the argument that some other nearby districts are planning or engaging in full-time in-person returns, at least for elementary, he pointed out that in Westport, students have been attending four days a week all along, though for shortened days.

“Our elementary kids are in every day right now … I do feel that we’re in a little bit different position there,” he said.

“It’s not a perfect elementary model, but they’re in every day,” he said.

Scarice said that at about the four-week mark he hopes to get a third-party independent review of how mitigating measures are working in the district, and at that time consider phasing in a reopening.

“I can’t see the middle school being in play at least until Coleytown opens up,” he said, but elementary and Staples High School could be considered.

Once again, Scarice stressed a statement commonly repeated among superintendents throughout the region and beyond — that they’re attempting to configure and conduct school during a pandemic, with all that encompasses.

Toward that end, he said, while the numbers continue to be good in Fairfield County regarding virus counts and transmissions — though there was a slight uptick this week — Scarice said the decision was a bit more complicated and included consideration of trends.

“I think a yo-yo effect would not be good for kids,” he said, cautioning that an early return could be suddenly aborted, which would be more harmful in the long run — not only to students and families, but staff as well.

“We have two elementary classes in quarantine right now,” BOE member Lee Goldstein said, speaking in favor of maintaining the course for now.

“I know that some parents aren’t happy about it,” she said, “but I think it’s pretty good.”

Suzanne Levasseur, health services supervisor, expressed several positives regarding mitigation strategies, including students’ use of masks.

“The kids have been wearing the masks and they almost like to wear the masks,” she said.

She also noted that most parents appeared to be exercising caution in keeping kids home when illness symptoms arise.

“They’re taking it very seriously,” she said. “I’m sure there are exceptions and I’ve heard of some, but we’ve had very few sick children in school.”

Asked about virus numbers in adjacent districts — in particular those that are further along with in-person schooling — Levasseur said the state will be starting a database aimed at capturing numbers by district.

“I think that will be interesting,” she said. “And I think they really want to take a look at that data too.”

One main issue that needs addressing is — or at least will be — the need for substitute teachers as the year rolls on.

Toward that end the BOE unanimous approved $287,560 to fund an additional eight permanent building substitutes to the district, as well as raising the daily per diem rate to $130 from $100.

John Bayers, director of human resources and general administration, said it’s a common problem throughout the area, as many former substitutes — in particular those with concerns about getting sick — have chosen not to work in the schools this season.

“The challenge of the subs is an issue,” he said. “It’s something we’re all working at across the districts,” noting he hopes the increase will make Westport more competitive.

An additional building substitute added to each school will bring the total number for the district to 26.

Scarice said he sees this additional expense as “a one-year insurance policy” to help provide classroom coverage.

He shared that even if a staff member is exposed to others outside of school who test positive, it can result in their having to suddenly quarantine for 14 days.

“Forecasting this year is a real challenge,” Scarice said of budgets and staff. “We’ve never done pandemic education before.”

Westport COVID-19 Case Count Up Two, Deaths Unchanged

The state said today its Westport COVID-19 case count was up two at 373 (357 confirmed and 16 probable) while the number of deaths was unchanged at 23.

Gov. Ned Lamont today announced a new advisory group designed to prepare Connecticut for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, which the state expects will be available for wide distribution sometime next year.

The group will be chaired by Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting commissioner of public health, and Dr. Reggie Eadie, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England.

It will include committees on science, distribution and outreach, composed of “vaccine experts” as well as representatives from state agencies, the state legislature and organized labor.

Gifford said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expect a preliminary vaccine distribution plan in mid-October. From there, she said, the group will continue to work on vaccine preparation over the ensuing months.

Lamont said he’d been told by CDC officials to prepare for a vaccine as early as next April. Gifford and Eadie, however, said the timeline remains uncertain.

Police: Removing Political Signs May Constitute Theft

The Westport Police Department announced today that it has received complaints about the disappearance, removal, and/or theft of political signs in the buildup to Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

“Residents and visitors are advised against taking it upon themselves to remove signs that do not belong to them, from either public or private property,” the announcement said. “The enforcement of the town’s rules is the responsibility of the town of Westport, not that of private citizens.”

Lt. Anthony Prezioso said the unauthorized removal may constitute theft.

“Entering onto private property to remove signs may also constitute trespassing,” Prezioso said. “Both of these acts can ultimately result in arrest.”

According to the announcement temporary signs for political purposes are considered expressions of free speech and are allowed on public property. Westport’s guidelines for all temporary signs on town property apply to political signs.

“No sign may be placed on any school property without the prior permission of the Superintendent’s Office,” the guidelines say.

They also prohibit signs within the interior of Compo Beach or Longshore Club Park, as well as Town Hall property, and no sign may be placed on trees or utility poles, nor interfere with traffic visibility.

Signs placed on private property must have property-owner approval, the announcement said, and may not extend beyond the property line or into the town right-of-way. It is also suggested that they be removed within two days after the publicized event or election.

The town also urges against placing signs on state property for which the town is not responsible. This includes rights of way and islands along Routes 1, 136, 57, and 33, as well as the Sherwood Island Connector and I-95 entrance and exit ramps. Simply put, the town said, the state may remove them.

Granger at the Movies: ‘Away,’ ‘Togo,’ ‘Infidel’

By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow

Looking for a new Netflix series to binge? Oscar-winner Hilary Swank stars in “Away,” a cathartic, compelling sci-fi drama about the first manned mission to Mars.

Susan Granger at the Movies

As tenacious NASA Commander Emma Green, she heads an international crew, along with veteran Russian cosmonaut/engineer Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir), Chinese chemist Wang Lu (Vivian Wu), Ghanaian-British botanist Kwesi (Ato Essandoh) and second-in-command Ram (Ray Panthaki), the ship’s Indian doctor.

As the episodes unfold, each astronaut has his or her own personal backstory. Emma’s involves her supportive husband, NASA scientist Matt Green (Josh Charles), and 15 year-old daughter Lexi (Talitha Eliana Bateman), who will face unexpected challenges during Emma’s three-year mission.

Perfectly timed during this worldwide pandemic, the initial 10 episodes capture our current anxiety and paranoia, as viewers can identify with the isolation and poignant emotional dilemmas faced by Atlas’ crew members who communicate with loved ones via video chat/cell phones/texting although they’re millions of miles away.

“While these people are working towards a goal together, they also have this gravitational pull to Earth,” explains Swank. “All of us having these families made it a love story.”

It’s definitely a character-driven, family/workplace epic, involving love & loss, faith & religion, making the perilous space journey a very real experience. Created by Andrew Hinderaker from an “Esquire” article by Chris Jones about the strains on the astronauts’ personal lives, each segment presents new challenges.

Weightlessness plays a pivotal part. Since it was obvious that the extensive wire-work would be physically grueling, particularly on the glutes and abs, the actors attended a few weeks of arduous ‘stunt’ boot-camp in Vancouver, where the series is filmed.

In addition, Swank spent time training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, meeting astronaut Karen Nyberg, who spent 180 days in space; Swank also chatted with Jessica Meir, who was onboard the International Space Station at the time.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, the first season of “Away” is an engaging 8. It has all the right stuff!

Somewhat overlooked when it first streamed on Disney Plus, “Togo,” a treacherous, true tale of a rugged Alaskan frontiersman and his trusty Siberian Husky, is highly recommended for family viewing.

During the winter of 1925, a deadly diphtheria epidemic threatened the children of Nome, Alaska. Since a horrific blizzard was brewing, getting the necessary serum by plane was impossible. That’s when veteran Norwegian musher Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) decided to undertake the perilous journey with his team of sled dogs.

If the story sounds familiar, the harrowing, historic 674-mile run across Alaska was previously filmed as the animated film “Balto” (1995), commemorating the canine that completed the final segment and was honored with a statue in New York’s Central Park later that year.

But Balto only ran the final 50+ miles; it was heroic 12 year-old Togo who actually led for most of the journey, including crossing the frozen Norton Sound to save time. Finally in 2001, Togo got his own marble monument in the Lower East Side’s Seward Park, named for Secretary of State William H. Seward who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

Screenwriter Tom Flynn decided to set the record straight, working with director/cinematographer Ericson Core. Filming took four months in Alberta, Canada, near Lake Louise, and in the Rocky Mountains, coping with difficult conditions: bad weather, strong winds and 50-below zero temperature, leading to frostbite. The “relay” as depicted eventually inspired the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Togo was named after the Japanese Admiral Heihachiro Togo, a pivotal figure in the 1904-05 war between Russia and Japan. After his remarkable “Serum Run,” Togo lived four more years, dying at age 16, in 1929.

FYI: The recitation that Seppala utters as his dogs are crossing the icy, splintering sea is a somewhat edited version of the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”

On the Granger Gauge, “Togo” is an exciting 8, correcting an error in the history books.

Once upon a time, devoutly Catholic actor James Caviezel was on an ascending career trajectory, having garnered acclaim in “The Thin Red Line” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Then came “The Passion of the Christ” and his outspoken defense of Mel Gibson, who was known to have engaged in overt anti-Semitism. Speaking at the First Baptist Church of Orlando, Caviezel noted, “Mel Gibson doesn’t need your judgment; he needs your prayers.”

And in 2006, Caviezel appeared in a controversial anti-stem cell research commercial in response to Parkinson’s-afflicted actor Michael J. Fox’s stem-cell endorsement, comparing Fox to Judas.

Adamantly refusing to separate his faith from his work, Caviezel has declared he would never participate in love scenes, especially if they involved nudity, preferring to follow the path of religious films.

Which obviously led him to “Infidel,” a tepid thriller about Doug Rawlins, a Christian preacher/blogger who deliberately infuriates Muslims at a conference on religion in Egypt, gets kidnapped by Hezbollah and winds up in prison in Iran, accused of being an American spy. His wife Elizabeth (Claudia Karvan), who works for the US State Department, then goes to Iran to try to free him. 

As depicted in writer/director/producer Cyrus Nowrasteh’s script, Rawlins shows an arrogant disdain for the Muslim faith, proclaiming on Cairo television: “Jesus is God, and he wants to be your God.”

He’s not only rude but also disrespectful of Muslim beliefs. It’s like going to the Vatican and openly criticizing the Pope’s faith. 

Ostensibly about human rights abuses and corruption, the concept defeats itself. Even his captor Ramzi (Hal Ozsan) admits, “We take this #### far too seriously,” urging: “Just tell them what they want to hear, and this will all be over.” But Rawlins is determined to be a martyr.

And since the opening shots show Rawlins facing a firing squad on a Tehran rooftop, we know from the getgo what’s inevitably going to happen.

On the Granger Gauge, “Infidel” is a faith-based 5, preaching to the choir.


Susan Granger

(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

Monday, Sept. 21, 2020


Westport Town Offices & Senior Center are closed.
2 p.m. – 6 p.m. – Westport Library – Open for limited services
4 p.m. – 646-876-9923 ID:  859 5541 0489 – RTM Employee Compensation Committee Canceled
7 p.m. – Electronically – Board of Education: live streamed on http://www.westportps.org, Optimum ch. 78, Frontier ch. 6021
7 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – StoryFest 2020: How the Story Tells Itself
8:30 p.m. – Virtual Westport Library – StoryFest 2020: In Our Next Issue – Comics & the New Worlds in Their Pages

Westport Senior Center YouTube Channel
Westport Library Event Calendar
Westport Library YouTube Page
Earthplace YouTube Channel
Virtual Westport Museum for History & Culture
See more events: Celebrate Westport Calendar

U.S. Rep. Hayes Tests Positive for COVID-19

U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, announced today she has contracted COVID-19, one day after entering a 14-day quarantine necessitated by a staffer’s positive test.

Hayes, whose district covers a large area of northwestern Connecticut, is the first member of Connecticut’s delegation to test positive for COVID. Hayes said she had been working in close contact with a staffer who recently tested positive for the disease.

It is unclear whether the infected staffer worked in her Capitol Hill office or in her district office in Waterbury.

In a statement released today and posted on Twitter, Hayes described the process she went through to obtain the test and said her experience underscores the need for a more coherent national testing strategy.

“After going to two urgent care centers yesterday, I finally got an appointment at a third site and was tested this morning. Contrary to popular belief, Members of Congress do not get tested regularly. In fact we are not mass tested at all in DC.,” Hayes said. “Masks, social distancing and frequent floor cleanings are the precautions that are taken in the House. I have taken every possible precaution and still contracted the coronavirus.

“My experience and the experience of my staff underscores the need for a national testing strategy with a coherent way to receive speedy, accurate results. This level of anxiety and uncertainty is untenable. I am asymptomatic, except for breathing issues which are being monitored. Please keep my family and my staff in your prayers.”

Her announcement on Twitter included a video of the congresswoman having a nasal swab at the drive-up testing location.

Staffers at Hayes’ offices in Washington D.C. and the district will work remotely “until further notice.”

This is the second time Hayes has announced she has quarantined herself because of the pandemic.

The first time was in April when her husband, Milford Hayes, a Waterbury police officer, tested positive for COVID-19 at his workplace.

Hayes is at least the 15th House member reported to have tested positive for COVID-19, and two U.S. senators have. Many more federal lawmakers have entered quarantine because of exposure to other infect people.

—CTMirror.org

Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020


Westport Senior Center & Library are closed.
4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Sherwood Island State Park – ShoreFest on a Roll
7 p.m. – Imperial Parking Lot – Remarkable Drive-In with Westport Farmers Market: “Bloodroot”

Westport Senior Center YouTube Channel
Westport Library Event Calendar
Westport Library YouTube Page
Earthplace YouTube Channel
Virtual Westport Museum for History & Culture
See more events: Celebrate Westport Calendar