On March 5, First Selectman Chris Spaulding convened a meeting at Town Hall of State, regional, and local medical and emergency response officials to coordinate readiness plans for the possibility of coronavirus cases appearing in Weston.
At initial press time of this article, there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Connecticut, but Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper had said, "it's going to be found" here.
It was, hours after publication. A Westchester County resident who works at Danbury and Norwalk hospitals tested positive.
In Danbury, Governor Ned Lamont said the case "was not unexpected," and that "we are well prepared for this."
Kerry Eaton, Chief Operating Officer of Nuance Health, which owns both hospitals, said the facilities have been preparing for a case since mid-January, and expressed confidence that the situation is contained.
"We take care of patients with infectious diseases every day of the year," said Ms. Eaton. She said the employee works in a relatively isolated part of the hospital and is now self-quarantined at home. Co-workers with whom the patient had contact have been tested and furloughed. Other possible contacts are being notified.
Information at 211
Connecticut Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell said, so far, 42 specimens have been tested at the health department's Rocky Hill laboratory, all negative. 11 more are in the queue.
At least until commercial labs come fully on-line with testing, which is imminent, the State's tests are limited to those who are acutely ill and require hospitalization.
Commissioner Coleman-Mitchell said the State's 211 system is now available to answer frequently-asked-questions about coronavirus for those without symptoms. Those with symptoms, she said, should contact their physicians.
Health officials urge you to take basic precautions to avoid exposure, and if you are exposed, to make sure you do not spread the virus.
Basic precautions include frequent hand-washing, sneezing into a tissue or your elbow, and staying home if you are sick.
In addition, the health district advises that if you begin to feel unwell, don't wait to contact a physician.
"Be proactive," said Mike Vincelli, the district's director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. "If you don't feel well, don't wait until you feel really bad."
Coronavirus and flu symptoms are essentially identical, according to Mr. Cooper. "The flu is still out there," he said. "Getting the flu vaccine reduces the risk you will have symptoms that can be confused with coronavirus."
When you call your physician, he or she will determine if you should be tested, in which case you will be sent to a hospital.
Police Sergeant Joe Miceli, who runs Weston's emergency operations center, asks that, barring some other emergency or a severe problem, you not call 911 unless instructed by a physician.
Public events, planning at the schools
Sgt. Miceli said no public events have been canceled, but that officials and emergency response teams are "constantly evaluating conditions in the community and surrounding areas. If the need arises, we are prepared."
First Selectman Spaulding said the Town is already "looking at technology options" for hearings and meetings where members of the public may prefer to participate remotely.
At the schools, Superintendent William McKersie advised parents today that the district is "developing academic program plans for students if we have to close." This would involve what is commonly referred to as "distance learning," essentially online teaching programs.
The schools have scheduled an early dismissal next Tuesday so teachers and staff can plan for "extended learning opportunities" outside the classroom.
If the schools do have to close because of confirmed coronavirus cases, the campus will close completely. This could impact the end of the school year. By law, students are required to have 180 days of classroom instruction. The State Commissioner of Education has the power to grant waivers, but, according to Dr. McKersie, has already advised districts to "exhaust all other options to make up for any lost school days."
Officials participating in the meeting called by Dr. Spaulding represented virtually every constituency, including Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz, and, from the health district, Mr. Cooper, Mr. Vincelli, and Louis Donofrio.
Emergency response leaders included Jon Weingarten and Michael Schlechter from EMS and John Pokorny, Terry Blake, and Craig Cohen from Weston Volunteer Fire Department. Weston Police leadership included Chief Edwin Henion, Captain Matthew Brodacki, and Sgt. Miceli. John Ojarovsky from emergency dispatch participated, as did Superintendent McKersie and assistant superintendent Mike Rizzo from the school district.
Also present were Town Attorney Ira Bloom and Westport Town Attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug.
On Thursday, Governor Lamont said he has urgently asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide Connecticut with additional coronavirus testing kits.
The state's Department of Public Health was supplied with kits capable of testing more than 500 patients. The governor said he is concerned that new CDC testing guidance "casts a broader net on the population of patients who should be tested and will result in a shortage of kits in the state."
“Here in Connecticut, we are doing everything we can to protect our residents from the spread of this illness and want to ensure we have the capability to prepare for every possibility,” said the governor.
Best case, worst case
A challenge, according to Mr. Cooper, the health district director, is that much is still unknown about coronavirus. "The world is learning about this as we go along," he said.
Mr. Cooper said his own supposition of the best case is that coronavirus "is already here, and is like a mild flu." Only those with a co-infection or seriously compromised health would be at significant risk.
The worst case, said Mr. Cooper, "is that it's not here, and when it gets here there could be high mortality. We're preparing for the worst-case scenario."
Editor's Note: This article was updated hours after initial publication with information about the confirmed case of the hospital worker, including comments by Governor Lamont, Nuance COO Terry Eaton, and DPH Commissioner Coleman-Mitchell at a press conference in Danbury.
March 8, 2020: "Wilton Resident 'Presumptive' Postive for COVID-19"
March 7, 2020: "Bridgeport Physician Tests Positive"
March 4, 2020: "Lamont Urges Following New CDC Guidance"