April began with dual declarations from the Board of Health and the Select Board that the town would be entering a state of emergency. This was the time when the presence of toilet paper in grocery stores could be a declaration of war or a peace offering, and long lines circling the Market Basket were the only constant in residents’ lives. This was the month that the town lost its first resident to COVID-19 and the first time that Reading’s active caseload jumped to over 100. In this time of darkness, however, light came from unexpected places: a local artist painting words of hope of businesses, an Easter Bunny with a police escort, a socially-distant walk with friends through a historic neighborhood they’d never explored before.
The Select Board convened virtually for the first time on April 1st to officially declare a state of emergency in the town. The move came after the Board of Health made a similar declaration earlier in the day.
“Select Board chair Mark Dockser explained that similar declarations have already been made by 197 of the 351 municipalities in the Commonwealth. Dockser also shared that he believes that the declaration would emphasize the significance of the community’s situation and show unity and cooperation between the Board of Health and the Select Board. The state of emergency will last until lifted by the board or by the governor, whichever occurs first,” reported Kevin Vendt.
According to Board of Health Chair Emmy Dove, there were currently 31 reported positive cases of the virus in Reading at that time.
With schools having been closed since March 13th, Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Doherty met with the School Committee during an April 7 meeting to discuss what he and his staff had been doing to prepare for virtual learning.
Doherty and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Christine Kelley detailed the two phases of rollout for continuing education during this challenging time. Phase one focussed on providing families with resources and preparing teachers for virtual teaching. Phase two began on Monday, April 6th, with distance learning plans sent to middle and high school students, with plans for elementary plans being sent later that week.
“Online learning plans focus on ‘depth over breadth’ according to Kelley, with teachers expected to offer students tools and activities to maintain and practice skills that have already been taught. New material will not be explored. There is also to be an emphasis on flexibility, recognizing the different resources that students may have at home and the differing schedules and time that parents have to help students,” reported Vendt.
Kelley and Doherty also stated that they had moved to combine terms three and four for middle and high school students and that students would not receive grades but instead receive either a “pass” or “incomplete” for the term.
On April 8th, Reading lost its first resident to COVID-19, according to a press release from Town Manager Bob LeLacheur.
“Sadly, late yesterday, I learned that we have lost a member of the community to the Covid-19 virus. Many of our neighboring communities have also suffered similar losses, but this news brings it home to all of us. Please take a moment today to reflect for the grieving family at this most difficult time,” stated LeLacheur.
LeLacheur ended the press release asking residents to pay heed to social-distancing guidelines.
“Every time you stay home with your family, you improve [front line workers] chances of getting home to see theirs,” stated LeLacheur.
In an attempt to raise the spirits of the children of Reading, who had been feeling the brunt of social distancing protocols after the closure of schools on March 13, an Easter Bunny made its way through Reading in lieu of the traditional Easter Bunny Parade.
“The parade started on Wilson Street at 10 am and wove its way through neighborhoods east of Main Street, with plans to visit the west side of town next weekend. Families were encouraged to watch and wave at the parade as it passed, making sure they kept social distance as they did so,” reported Julia Corbett.
Standing in the back of a truck bed, Reading resident Lindsay Renzullo (playing the role of Easter Bunny) waved to passersby as children and adults alike came outside to see the parade which featured a police and fire escort.
In the early days of the public health crisis, one of the few constants in residents’ lives were the long lines outside the Market Basket.
“Grocery stores are listed as one of the essential businesses on Governor Baker’s March 24 Emergency Order and have often been on the front line of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation as residents attempt to stock up for the long days of quarantine and self-isolation ahead,” reported Julia Corbett.
Market Baskets across New England began limiting the number of customers allowed in stores at one time on April 2nd. The Reading Market Basket limited its capacity to 150 customers, leading to long lines outside of the store as residents waited to be admitted. As residents competed for essential items such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and paper towels, both the Reading Market Basket and Stop & Shop instituted buying limits on certain products.
An early morning electrical fire destroyed the Meadow Brook Clubhouse, causing an estimated $1.5 million in damages.
“The investigation team determined that the fire began in a void space in the ceiling between an office and a kitchen where it burned undetected. When it finally broke out of the void space, it traveled up the exterior of the building. Investigators suspect that the electrical fire disabled the fire alarm system. By the time a neighbor noticed the fire and reported it, the fire already had a stronghold on the building,” reported The Reading Post.
As the pandemic shuttered all non-essential businesses in early April, Reading-based artist Antea Amoroso took it upon herself to infuse some much-needed joy into the town by painting words of hope onto the windows of local businesses. The window art featured messages of hope as well as inspiring music lyrics, which were crowd-sourced from Amoroso’s followers on social media.
“The project really started to take off when Amoroso started to advertise the project on social media, asking her Instagram followers to tag a local business that they thought might be interested in being part of the project. Within the span of a few days, the project went from including around ten local businesses to over 100, with new requests from surrounding towns coming in every day,” reported Corbett.
Amoroso’s messages of hope could be found on several local businesses in Reading, including Bunratty Tavern, Pamplemousse, Christopher’s Restaurant, and Goodheart’s Children’s Shop.
In an April 23rd meeting with the Select Board, Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios informed the Board that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had developed mitigation to help ease traffic back-ups occurring at Bagel World.
“Starting Thursday, April 23, MassDOT will pay for a police detail at the site until other mitigation plans can be implemented. These plans include modification of the lane configuration at Bagel World, turning the six-foot bicycle lane into a seven and a half foot right-turn lane at Bagel World, and painting an island with signage for the left-turn lane at the site. MassDOT will also be reviewing the driveway permit for the site to see if changes can be made,” reported Kevin Vendt.
The meeting also covered updates from the Board of Health, which was currently dealing with 132 reported cases of COVID-19 in Reading.
As most residents finished their first full month of self-isolation, many people within the town began to turn to the Reading Town Forest for the opportunity to enjoy being outside while still maintaining social distance.
“There have been reports of a substantial increase in the number of visitors to the Town Forest since self-isolation began. People are looking for a break from being home. Spending time in nature is a great way to take one’s mind off the pandemic,” said Bill Sullivan, Chair of the Town Forest Committee, in an interview with Julia Corbett.