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A few weeks after Congress approved an emergency paid sick leave act and the emergency family and medical leave expansion act, the flag at the Common on April 3 was at half staff, grocery shoppers were standing in a line outside Market Basket, and schools, courtrooms and beauty parlors were empty.
The world was at war with a novel virus, COVID-19, and there was no certainty of the outcome.
Governmental leaders made tough decisions designed to save lives but with the doors of retailers buttoned up tightly, the stalled commerce activity was likely to strain the national and local economy.
In Westford, residents tried to carry on as before their world changed, but everywhere there were signs that things were different.
At the town Common, the American flag flew at half staff in honor of the 15 or so patients who died, as of April 3, at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Another 59 tested positive for the virus, according to reports.
A mile away at Market Basket, people stood in a line that extended almost the length of the store, waiting to do their grocery shopping while practicing social distancing, a term new to almost everyone. Many shoppers stood in the rain six feet away from the shopper in front and in back. About half covered their faces with masks. Patrons were only allowed into the store when a customer left, thus, limiting the numbers of shoppers and controlling how closely they came to each other while inside the store. Signs on the store’s windows blasted the new, shorter hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“I’m going grocery shopping,” said resident Carol Sheridan, unaware of the shortened store hours. On a typical Saturday night, a trip to Market Basket would not be her activity of choice, she said. But with Gov. Charlie Baker’s state of emergency still in effect, there was no opportunity for socializing.
Published reports said Market Basket employees from Burlington, Chelsea, Ashland, Framingham and Chelmsford had tested positive for the virus. With grocery stores declared essential services by the governor, the workers were on the front line wearing gloves but not protective masks or gowns.
Residents are soldiering on, but the reality is harsh. Restaurants can only sell take-out food. Services that are up close and personal such as dental work and hair grooming cannot take place. Body builders cannot use their gyms.
The quest for toilet paper has preoccupied most residents as they stare at empty shelves and then call a friend for a roll, or turn to Amazon for an order only to discover the delivery date is May 20.
With so many businesses closing throughout the state and country, thousands are out of work and filing for unemployment assistance. On March 18, Congress acted quickly to help them by passing the emergency paid sick leave act and the emergency family and medical leave expansion act. The law went into effect on April 1.
Meanwhile, according to Westford Health Director Jeff Stephens, there are 25 infected residents, as of April 3. Statewide, there are 8,966 cases, and 1,870 positive cases in Middlesex County.
The number of deaths across the state are 154, Stephens said.