40 people who attended a farewell party in Connecticut in early March were exposed to Covid-19 after a partygoer was confirmed to have the virus.
The Westport party is a story of how, in the Gilded Age of money, social connectedness and air travel, a pandemic has spread at lightning speed. The partygoers — more than half of whom are now infected — left that evening for Johannesburg, New York City and other parts of Connecticut and the United States, all seeding infections on the way.
On the morning of March 8, three days after the party, Julie Endich, one of the guests, woke up in Westport with a fever that spiked to 104 degrees and “pain, tightness and heaviness like someone was standing on my chest,” she later wrote on Facebook. She knew her symptoms suggested Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but it would be four days before she could get test results confirming that she had it.
The town of Westport now has 79 cases, the most of any Connecticut municipality, according to local officials. In Fairfield County, the surrounding county, there are 384 confirmed cases, more than half of Connecticut’s total number of cases.
The health district worked with a private company to conduct drive-through testing for party guests only on March 12. About 38 guests showed up, and more than half their tests came back positive.
Yale New Haven Health System’s Covid-19 call center received about a hundred calls from those who attended the party or who had been in contact with those who had, according to chief quality officer Dr. Steven Choi. Health officials could not confirm how many party attendees have since tested positive for coronavirus.
Gatherings like the one in Westport can create high-exposure environments where coronavirus can infect multiple people, according to Choi.”That infected person could very easily infect everyone at the party, especially if most of the party occurred in one or two rooms in the house, where people are touching silverware, cups, utensils, door knobs,” Choi said.
The party serves as a stark example how quickly coronavirus spreads in crowded areas, and the role asymptomatic people can play in disseminating the disease. It also foreshadowed the warnings of public health officials that came in the following days.
Now, Westport is grappling with the reality that it has the highest number of cases in Connecticut.
“To some extent, Westport is a cautionary tale, or a harbinger of what’s to come,” Connecticut State Senator Will Haskell said. “I hope the 168 other towns in Connecticut see what happens in Westport and act accordingly.”
At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said that 415 people in the state were infected, up from 327 on Sunday night. Ten people have died. Westport, with less than 1 percent of the state’s population, now makes up more than one-fifth of its Covid-19 infections, with 85 cases. Fairfield County, where Westport is, has 270 cases, 65 percent of the state’s total.
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