A Second Year On The North Shore In The Time Of Coronavirus

·7 min read

SALEM, MA — It was a year when things were supposed to get back to the way they were on the North Shore.

In many ways, they did. In some other ways, the challenges in dealing with the coronavirus seem as daunting as ever nearly two full years into the pandemic.

A year that started with the promise of vaccines amid some of the darkest days of restrictions and death ends with North Shore cities and towns wrestling with battles over masks and vaccines that often seem as contentious as ever.

Through it all there were hard decisions, very welcomed tradition returns and North Shore residents and businesses that went out of their way to help their friends, neighbors, and in some cases complete strangers, navigate a time like no other.

Patch was there for many of those stories on the North Shore 2021 so here's a look back on where we were at the start of 2021 and how we got to the cusp of 2022.

It was early in January 2021 when North Shore cities and towns began holding vaccination clinics for first responders and scaled up virus testing as districts attempted to bring more students back to the classroom in hybrid learning.

As virus rates crested in January, North Shore leaders considered regional measures to "restrict unnecessary indoor activities" while several schools — including Peabody High School and Swampscott High School— bounced between in-person and remote learning.

Some signs of light flickered late in January as North Shore restaurant owners cheered the end of the 9:30 p.m. non-essential business curfew that had been in place for two months.

"Talking with some industry friends it was a really nice surprise," Adam Drohan, owner of Paddy Kelly's in Peabody and Sidelines Sports Bar & Grill in Salem, told Patch. "Finally."

Meanwhile, as vaccinations became more available, the campaign began to convince those soon to be eligible of their safety and effectiveness.

"We're not going to be able to get back to the way we used to live until everybody says that I'm doing this, not just for myself, but for my community," Salem Hospital President Dr. David Roberts said on Jan. 20. "It's part of being a citizen — I believe."

By February, signs of better times ahead sprung up such as the revamped "Salem So Sweet" Valentine's Day festival.

"Our hope from the Main Streets aspect is this helps us develop best practices on how we can do community initiatives," Salem Main Streets Director Kylie Sullivan told Patch, "and support the city in a way that is safe and mindful, but also in a way that helps businesses and provides mental health for the community."

While there were some changes to the 19th annual Salem So Sweet Ice Sculpture & Chocolate program this year, the popular ice sculptures were back for the two-week experience. (Courtesy John Andrews, Creative Collective/City of Salem)
While there were some changes to the 19th annual Salem So Sweet Ice Sculpture & Chocolate program this year, the popular ice sculptures were back for the two-week experience. (Courtesy John Andrews, Creative Collective/City of Salem)

"At this moment nothing matters more than getting our residents vaccinated as quickly and safely as possible," Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt said. "That's how we protect those most at risk for the virus. That's how we get our students back in school each day."

There were moments to cheer — like when Peabody nurse Jen Medina was chosen as one of 75 vaccinated front-line workers who flew on the Patriots plane to watch Tom Brady in the Super Bowl courtesy of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and when Gov. Charlie Baker championed the learning model of Salem's Bentley Innovation School amid the pandemic challenges.

"It’s going to be an amazing experience. I am glad health care workers are being recognized for all their hard work throughout this," Jen Medina, Peabody resident and coronavirus unit registered nurse at MelroseWakefield Hospital. (Courtesy MelroseWakefield Hospital)
"It’s going to be an amazing experience. I am glad health care workers are being recognized for all their hard work throughout this," Jen Medina, Peabody resident and coronavirus unit registered nurse at MelroseWakefield Hospital. (Courtesy MelroseWakefield Hospital)


As some North Shore residents shared their stories with Patch of "torture" trying to find vaccination appointments in late February, Beverly sisters Abigail, Lilla and Polly Gabrieli, who all attended Harvard University, created a website that quickly alerted subscribers of vaccine appointments.

"One of the coolest parts of this experience is connecting with people I didn't know of, I've never met, will never meet, but knowing we are united in this struggle to get the people we love vaccinated," Lilla Gabrieli told Patch.

With a push from the state, school districts began returning to full-time in-classroom learning in March as the one-year anniversary of the state's first coronavirus shutdowns was a reflection point of all so many had lost and were still hoping to get back one day soon.

"In terms of the creatives, they can't wait to get back to work," Cabot Theater Executive Director Casey Soward told Patch. "People can be confident that the Cabot is going to come back, be a new Cabot and be even stronger than it was before."

By April, Salem was taking steps to truly welcome back tourists for the upcoming summer festival season, while Marblehead hockey star Lexie Laing and the Boston Pride got to celebrate the pro hockey title they felt coronavirus had stolen from them a year earlier.

"It was a running joke among the players that COVID-19 had won back-to-back championships," Laing told Patch. "It was a great effort from the league and the sponsors to plan and play those final games."

"We grew up in that culture that Boston wins championships. Period. There's no doubt. To be part of that legacy is something you dream about as a kid," Boston Pride center Lexie Laing, of Marblehead. (Michelle Jay/NWHL)
"We grew up in that culture that Boston wins championships. Period. There's no doubt. To be part of that legacy is something you dream about as a kid," Boston Pride center Lexie Laing, of Marblehead. (Michelle Jay/NWHL)


Swampscott's Diana Rastegayeva's network of 500 volunteers worked tirelessly to help get the coronavirus vaccine to those left out of the state's rollout in April. Then business owners' spirits soared when the state lifted all remaining coronavirus-related restrictions as of May 29.

"We're all so happy. I feel so happy. I think they're really ready to come back.," Tread Tabata of Beverly Owner Kathy Glabicky told Patch.

Salem was hailed as a model for the tourism revival during a summer that felt, in a lot of ways, pretty much like 2019. Beverly brought back its annual Homecoming Festival and Salem held its Heritage Days festival with all the fireworks.

But as the school year approached, debates about classroom masking began to draw on the divisions within the North Shore. The Salem Board of Health brought back its mask mandate for the Halloween tourist season and the Salem School Committee approved a vaccine mandate for "high-respiration" extracurricular activities.

Yet, crowds poured into the Witch City for Halloween and the Topsfield Fairgrounds, while North Shore runners covered 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square in the first-ever October Boston Marathon.

Crowds were back in Salem by the thousands for Halloween 2021 after being told to "stay away" in 2020. (Scott Souza/Patch)
Crowds were back in Salem by the thousands for Halloween 2021 after being told to "stay away" in 2020. (Scott Souza/Patch)


No sooner did indoor mask mandates end in Salem and Medford in November, however, when virus numbers began to rise — setting off a whole new series of mask and vaccine debates to end the year.

"We should protect the vaccinated people of the city of Salem from the unvaccinated," Dr. Roberts told the Salem Board of Health. "And we should make it difficult for unvaccinated people to interact with vaccinated people."

The Salem Board of Health did vote for a vaccination mandate to enter city bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues starting in January, as well as a resumed mask mandate. Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody and Swampscott followed with the masks, but not vaccines as of yet.

But in Beverly plans to discuss a vaccine requirement were dropped and a meeting to consider masks abandoned when it was overrun by those opposed to renewed restrictions.

As the year ends with case numbers high, from an omicron variant that hopefully will prove not to be as dangerous as the virus was thought to be 21 months ago, it appears it may be a while before things truly do get back to normal on the North Shore.

But there were days, weeks and months in 2021 when favorite traditions returned, hopes were again high, and both residents and tourists felt confident they will all be back even stronger in 2022.

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. Twitter: @Scott_Souza).

This article originally appeared on the Salem Patch

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