How do we respond as Massachusetts starts to reopen?

Naumkeag is planning to open its gardens next Monday, cautiously, to a few local people at a time. The governor’s announcement this week allows some local places to begin to reopen. It raises questions for all of us as we’re trying to help our community and stay safe. And as I talk with you about the community, it raises questions for me.

My sister is a doctor, and she can see the health implications of the pandemic more closely than I do, and with much more relevant knowledge. What I see, and what the work I do may be able to influence (even in small ways) is the ongoing effect in the local economy.

I write about restaurants, small businesses, arts and events (all virtual right now). And I want to do that responsibly, for the sake of health and safetly, and also for the sake of my community.

I know the pandemic will not lift until we have a working vaccine. Our Berkshire summer is shifting —Tanglewood has just gone to remote programming. Our tourists are staying home. And I know it’s necessary. I also know it’s going to cost us. It has already cost us — in jobs and revenue and stability.

So I’m trying to figure out what I can write about that may be helpful, and not harmful. So far, that’s been the local farmers market moving online, local shops with webshops that are set up to ship. It’s been virtual events, art, music. A plant nursery with curbside pickup.

But the options are about to shift, at least slightly.

Massachusetts is looking at what the governor describes as a very cautious first phase of reopening. The first phase is mostly outside my sphere (a few businesses, like construction, may be allowed to resume under guidelines.)

But the next phase begins to allow for places that are in my realm. Restaurants. Parks and gardens. Drive-in film. Local shops with curbside pickup. (We only have dates for this much, with the caveat that cases increase the governor will pull back.)

And in time, if the state decides it’s adviseable, and still within guidelines, they may gradually allow museums and some arts venues to open.

So I’m trying figure out how to respond. And how to balance responsibilities. I have a responsibility to readers, to make sure any information I give is up-to-date and clear and safe. And I also have a responsability to the local community, the museums and artists, musicians, bookstores, farmers and independent restaurants and all I work with.

So is the current complete ockdown the only safe alternative until we have a vaccine? Is it possible to help elements of the local economy that can safely operate? Can some elements of re-opening happen safely under appropirate guidelines?

I don’t yet know how to answer those questions. And I know they matter.

As local parks and gardens re-open legally, and if local shops and restaurants follow, how and when should I cover them? And does the answer change when we’re talking about a local audience? The Berkshires have had a fairly low number of cases, and we’re holding steady (according to the Eagle), at least this week. The Boston area has been almost as hard-hit as New York.

Out here, up to now, I’ve felt that I could safely get pepper plants from the Williamstown farmers market (ordered online and picked up outdoors in a carefully ordered setup with very few people, all wearing masks and six feet apart) … or get a takeout sandwich for curbside pickup. And I want to support the local food supply. That too is a question of public health and safety.

But making decisions for myself is one thing. Sharing information with you is another. I will keep alert and pay attention, and I’ll talk with you about what I learn.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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