October 15, 2020 10:37:27 AM
Tuesday evening, the West Point Board of Selectmen voted against a proposal that would have allowed the city's parks to open on a limited basis.
Although the proposal fell by a 3-1 vote, it was clear from the discussion that the decision was not an easy one to make.
West Point is certainly not alone in that regard.
For seven months now, COVID-19 has been a fact of life in our communities. During that time, thoughts of "a return to normal" have been replaced with the reality of fashioning a "new normal."
The shock that accompanied the first local outbreaks of the pandemic may have subsided, but the virus itself has not. Every day, hundreds of new cases are reported, along with accompanying deaths.
In the Golden Triangle, there have been 4,850 cases and 152 deaths since March and those numbers still grow.
Individuals, businesses and governments find themselves trying to strike a delicate balance between creating some semblance of normality while taking the necessary precautions to stay healthy.
As we have noted before, that balancing act can take an emotional and psychological toll. The more "normal" we can safely be, the better.
Individuals are allowed to make most of those decisions for themselves, but there are limitations such as social distance and mask requirements, measures that can only succeed with the compliance of the community.
Aside from those, we are free to make our own risk assessments and act accordingly.
For local governments, the decisions are more complicated, as West Point's decision on its parks illustrates.
Facilities such as parks are public spaces built and maintained by tax dollars. Citizens should have as much access to those facilities as possible. On the other hand, local governments are obligated to protect the safety of their citizens. We can think of no greater priority than that during this time of pandemic.
We understand the urge for our local leaders to be overly cautious, yet we see businesses adapting relatively quickly. Restaurants, service providers, retail stores, have all largely found a balance between the safety of their customers and commerce.
It is our hope that our local governments can find a similar balance, a way to accommodate the public, particularly in the parks, perhaps on a limited basis. The mental toll the pandemic is having on us -- young and old -- is well-documented. What could be better therapy than fresh air and exercise?
It doesn't necessarily have to be an either/or proposition.
We urge local governments to continue to seek ways that will allow citizens to access these public spaces safely.
That should be the goal.