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COVID-19 UPDATE: Town Officials Offer Latest Information On Schools, Services, Safety And More

The weather outside Town Hall was springlike and beautiful.

The faces on the officials arrayed on the front steps were grim.

First selectman Jim Marpe, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper, Westport Public Schools director of administration John Bayers and others outlined today’s rapid developments regarding COVID-19.

Flanked by town officials, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announces the latest COVID-19 news. From left: Fire Chief and town emergency management head Robert Yost; Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper; Police Chief Foti Koskinas; Westport Public Schools director of administration John Bayers; 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker, and 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane.

Last Thursday (March 5), approximately 40 people attended a private party in Westport.

One attendee — a man from an unnamed other nation — was there. He’d been in the US, and was headed home. He did not feel ill.

When he returned to his home country, he developed flu-like symptoms. WWHD officials received verbal notification today that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Of the 40 or so attendees at the party, approximately 14 have since reported flu-like symptoms. “We’re making the assumption it’s COVID-19,” Cooper said. The Health District is compiling a list of all attendees, and assessing their conditions.

“It’s likely many people were exposed,” Cooper said. “And others will be.”

Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper.

The party included school-age children. When education officials learned the news, shortly before noon, they made the decision to close all Westport public schools.

Schools will be closed — along with all related activities — for an undetermined period of time. Meanwhile, deep cleaning of all buildings will begin.

“The schools have been working closely for several weeks with the Health District,” Bayers noted. “Our plans were accelerated today.”

His office will communicate information about next steps for students tonight and tomorrow. More updates will follow, in the days ahead.

Westport Public Schools director of administration John Bayers.

Also closed: Town Hall.

Marpe announced it will be shut tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday. Officials will spend time determining how best to offer essential services to the public, while maintenance staff performs deep cleaning.

All municipal meetings are canceled for “the foreseeable future,” Marpe said. The first casualties: Thursday’s Planning & Zoning and Board of Finance sessions.

Human Services Department head Elaine Daignault noted that — as announced earlier today — the Senior Center is closed. The Toquet Hall teen center is similarly shut.

Senior Center director Sue Pfister (far right) listens to the press conference.

Daignault reiterated that staff will assist anyone, such as seniors and people with financial need, despite the closures. Meals to homebound residents will continue to be delivered. For questions or more information, call 203-341-1050.

“We’ll maintain essential services,” she said, urging Westporters to be “good neighbors” to those in need.

Westport Library director Bill Harmer said that his facility will be closed tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday for deep cleaning. Meanwhile, the staff will devise plans moving forward.

The library will reopen Monday for “essential services” only: book checkouts, and reference questions. Harmer encouraged residents to use the library’s extensive digital resources.

Print and television reporters kept their distance from each other, at the press conference on the steps of Town Hall. (Photos/Dan Woog)

The Parks & Recreation Department is limiting the use of fields. The goal is to “avoid gatherings,” Marpe said.

Marpe called the COVID-19 crisis “a constantly evolving situation,” then asked for questions.

In response to one about the availability of test kits, Cooper said that the Health District has been told, “they’re coming.”

Marpe has spoken with Governor Ned Lamont about the issue.

“He’s as frustrated as we are that the kits are not available yet,” the first selectman said. “He’s using every technique possible to get them.”

Marpe reiterated the basic health advice — “wash your hands!” — and noted the importance of avoiding large gatherings.

Private institutions must decide for themselves which events to cancel. “We recognize these are tough decisions,” he said.

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