I went to the Carmel Clay Public Library on Sept. 5 in a reflective mood. It was the last day of service before its $40 million expansion is set to begin. If all goes according to plan the library will re-open in two years’ time with a spiffy new parking garage and ample space for programming. That is, I should say, the library will reopen if we’re not all killed first by either COVID and/or current political circumstances. It’s getting harder for me to distinguish between the two.
Per usual, I walked in through the cafe entrance. I found that the library sale, which had been going on for several weeks, was now a book giveaway. Many good Carmel citizens were eating it up like flies on a dead dog. I happily joined the feast and picked up the following titles: The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman (I’ve read Einstein’s Dreams and also interviewed the author), The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (I Ioved The Secret History), Don’t Tell Dad by Peter Fonda (one of my favorite actors), and Symposium by Murial Spark (I'm unfamiliar with both book and author but I dig Plato).
When the library reopened in June — after COVID shut it down in mid-March — it was a different library. First of all, the staff discouraged patrons from lingering in the facility. They removed chairs from the tables, and shuttered the computer room (although you could get computer access if you asked for it.) In addition, none of the regular audio-visual staff people, who I always enjoyed chatting up, were sitting at their usual station. As a result of all this, I suppose, I haven't visited the library all that often over the past three months.
After making a trip back to the car to deposit my freebies, I made my way back into the library. Near checkout sat a Carmel Library employee working as a greeter. She had a full complement of COVID-19 swag on her table including hand sanitizer and free surgical masks. The wearing of masks, of course, was required in the building.
I went to the audio visual area where I picked up a Blu-Ray of Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux and ran into my friend Jason Messman, a library employee. We had been fellow employees in 2011 at the Borders at River Crossing, when the bookstore went bankrupt. We chatted for a bit. We were both having flashbacks, it turned out.
When my then wife and I decided to purchase our condo in Carmel, back in 2005, the proximity of the library was a big draw. Ditto was the proximity of the elementary school and the fact that we could walk to both. The police station is also in close proximity, as I soon became well aware. I’ve been stopped by police three times at or near the library, Once I was ticketed, after turning into the parking lot, for not wearing a seat belt. Another time I was stopped, in a case of mistaken identity, while walking into the library. Another time, I was stopped while walking back home after dropping my daughter off at the entrance of the elementary school. I have no idea why the cop decided to pull his radio car in front of my path.
My daughter is now a junior at Carmel High School, which is following a hybrid model. She goes to school two to three days a week, and goes virtual on the other days. She tells me that some of her teachers wear face shields instead of face masks, or alternate between the two. Her math teacher, she says, allows her and her classmates to take mask breaks by allowing them to take off their masks for short periods, even though COVID doesn’t take breaks. (My daughter leaves her mask on.)
The high school is really something of a city unto itself, with 5,400 students (before COVID) and vast grounds that stretch from Main Street to Keystone Avenue. Driving past the high school on Main Street, it’s hard to get a sense of the vastness of the school — or the vastness of the threat brewing behind its walls. So far there have been eight confirmed COVID cases per the last community report. But since that report was for the last week of August, there are likely more than that at the present time.
A recent article in Current in Carmel addressed the "mixed messages" on face masks and face shields in schools and the conflicting guidance on the state and the national level. The article notes that, while the CDC doesn't condone the use of face shields in the classroom, the state does allow them. As a result, according to the article, there is varying guidance in schools across district lines: face shields and face masks must be worn together in Zionsville and Westfield while, in Noblesville, face shields can be worn only when social distancing is feasible.
I just emailed the principal of Carmel High School, Dr. Thomas Harmas, to ask him why his school is not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines — which do not recommend face shields as a substitute for face masks — to the letter. I’ll let you know what his response is.
Anyway, back to the library. The Carmel Clay Public Library will open its temporary facility at 488 E. Carmel Dr. in early October, in the old Marsh Supermarket, assuming there’s not another stay-at-home order headed our way. I'm trying, in any case, not to assume much of anything right now.
Editor's note: Michael J. Beresford, superintendent of Carmel Clay Schools, replied to my letter with the following: "We are following the guidelines by the Indiana State Department of Health and the Hamilton County Health Department. Those guidelines currently permit face coverings including shields or masks. The guidelines also allow for masks breaks that require social distancing and all facing the same direction. The guidance continues to change as we progress through this pandemic and we continue to adapt as directed.
Your daughter is correct that her teachers are following the guidance of the CCS re-opening plan and the ISDH/Hamilton County Health Department."