Is this the 'Twilight Zone' yet?

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LENOX — If you're a fan of Rod Serling's classic "The Twilight Zone," the surreal times we're living through resemble a plotline even Serling and his writing team might not have imagined, though he came close in "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," where unseen aliens disrupt the power grid, unleashing powerful prejudices.

The invisible intruder known as the coronavirus pandemic also brings to mind another TV series, "The Outer Limits," which first aired in 1963 and was produced in several reincarnations. The sci-fi anthology always began with an ominous-sounding announcer intoning, "There is nothing wrong with your television set," the start of a narration that made people think their TVs were being controlled.

The week closed with President Trump fantasizing that the economy could start reviving, in phases, by Easter through a risk rating for every county in the nation.

Of course, there's no reliable data for compiling such information due to the shameful shortfall in available COVID-19 test kits, except in New York state, where 25 percent of the nation's tests have been carried out. That's a major reason, apart from population density, why the New York City metro area has been the epicenter of confirmed cases.

The impact of the viral emergency here in the Berkshires has been massive and destructive.

— Our small businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors, are suffering economic peril, and urgently need a lifeline from the U.S. Small Business Administration via the economic stimulus package approved by Congress and signed by President Trump.

— Workers in the service sector — housekeepers, for example — are losing their livelihoods. They are among the people who can least afford to miss a week's pay. The same applies to restaurant and tavern employees as well as staffers in our normally vibrant arts communities. Widespread layoffs affecting our museums and performing arts companies threaten the immediate future of those nonprofits and could jeopardize the vital summer hospitality season.

— Students are at loose ends by what's looming as a nearly two-month shutdown of schools, at least, with remote learning solutions highly complex and elusive, though well worth pursuing. This hiatus, prolonged to equal a traditional summer vacation, is time that never can be recaptured.

— Fear of outside visitors, especially from coronavirus "hot spots," has led to extraordinary measures such as Gov. Charlie Baker's instruction on Friday for all travelers arriving in Massachusetts to self-quarantine. He also urged people not to travel to the state, particularly if they have symptoms. Good common-sense advice.

"We're taking extraordinary steps here to keep our residents safe," he said, noting the restrictions he has already placed on state residents. Those include a stay-at-home advisory and the closing of non-essential businesses. "At the same time, we should also be thinking about the potential impact of travelers visiting Massachusetts from other places," Baker said.

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Epidemiologists are warning that New York's proximity and travel ties to Massachusetts could lead to more infections here, the Boston Globe reported. Baker emphasized that he wanted to make clear that the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were doing all they could to stop the spread of the virus.

Electronic signs placed at gateways to the Berkshires and at other key highways on the state line, an idea first proposed by the Tri-Town Board of Health's Executive Director James Wilusz, would help alert any incoming travelers to the stringent precautions in place across Massachusetts.

It's vital not to be carried away by notions spread by some locals on antisocial media that nonresidents, including second-homers and Airbnb renters, threaten the health and well-being of full-timers here.

"I do think it is important that we as a community convey an attitude of support to our friends from New York," said Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality, operator of The Red Lion Inn and other major hotels in the county and region. "They are seeking respite from a very fearful and complicated situation. We must remember that our New York-based community has supported us and our economy over the years."

And Jack Henderson, proprietor of an Airbnb guest house in downtown Stockbridge, told me: "The guests who have arrived from NYC have been very diligent about self-quarantining, so they are taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread. None of the guests have shown any symptoms of actually having the virus so they have not added to the burden on the local health care system."

To those who blame nonresidents for hampering the supply chain at local supermarkets, Henderson said that any shortages "seem to be more a result of people needlessly stockpiling to the point where the supply chain cannot keep up." A polite description of absurd hoarding.

These are the most difficult times since the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq War and the Great Recession that began in 2008, just to mention this century's previous challenges. But the current ordeal goes into another dimension, Rod Serling's "middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge."

Or, as Henderson told me: "We need to all pull together and do everything we can to help each other through this frightening pandemic. We will get through it and to the degree that we all help each other, we will be better for it."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has expressed similar inspirational sentiments in his daily, must-see briefings. Was that a handmade "Cuomo for President" sign I spotted along a nearby highway, or just a visit to "The Twilight Zone?"

Clarence Fanto can be reached at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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