Category Archives: Local politics

NY Times Spotlights Westport: “Party Zero: How A Soiree In Connecticut Became A ‘Super Spreader'”

The New York Times has taken note — and told the world: Westport is ground zero for the coronavirus in Connecticut. 

In a long story posted late this afternoon — with the subhead “about 50 people gathered this month for a party in the upscale suburb of Westport, then scattered across the region and the world, taking the coronavirus with them” — Elizabeth Williamson and Kristen Hussey report on our town’s role in the pandemic.

Businesses have closed along Main Street in Westport, Conn., where a surge in coronavirus cases has been reported.

Businesses have closed along Main Street in Westport, Conn., where a surge in coronavirus cases has been reported. (Photo/Dave Sanders for The New York Times)

About 50 guests gathered on March 5 at a home in the stately suburb of Westport, Conn., to toast the hostess on her 40th birthday and greet old friends, including one visiting from South Africa. They shared reminiscences, a lavish buffet and, unknown to anyone, the coronavirus.

Then they scattered.

The Westport soirée — Party Zero in southwestern Connecticut and beyond — 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.

Westport, a town of 28,000 on the Long Island Sound, did not have a single known case of the coronavirus on the day of the party. It had 85 on Monday, up more than 40-fold in 11 days.

 

That’s the start. The story ends …

The first partygoer to be diagnosed passed word from Johannesburg to Westport that he had fully recovered and even planned to go for a jog.

“I don’t believe I’m the problem anymore,” he told The Sunday Times. “It seems that the real problem is now the people who are too scared to say anything. The problem is the ignorance of the public.”

(To read the story on the New York Times website, click here.)

Marpe’s Message: Westport Cases; Testing; Business Closings; More

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

  • The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) released its update on laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 22, 2020. The total of laboratory-confirmed cases in Fairfield County is 208, 20 of which are hospitalizations. Westport has a total of 62 laboratory-confirmed cases. The diagram on page 1 of the DPH report indicates that of the 327 cases in CT, the majority impacted are between the ages of 40-60. Those in the age range of 20-40 are just as likely to be infected as those in the 60-80 age range.  Click here for the report.

NOTE:  The State data is constantly changing. The town of Westport has endeavored to share the most current information available to us, but understand that the state is updating data daily regarding the number of COVID-19 cases, as well as changes to executive orders. We will try to share that information with the public as quickly as it officially becomes available to us.

  • The Westport Weston Health District reminds the public that it has arranged local COVID-19 testing in town with the Murphy Medical group for Weston and Westport residents only starting tomorrow. Pre-registration and pre-screening is required. Visit coronatestct.com to learn more. Testing is by appointment only.  Note: Murphy Medical will not require payment to register, but it will take insurance information. Insurers will be billed and will pay for the COVID-19 testing. The state of Connecticut pays for those on Husky and Medicaid.

  • The Governor’s Executive Order 7H will take effect as of 8:00 PM this evening, March 23. This order requires that businesses suspend in-person operations for all non-essential functions. To see the Governor’s announcement, please follow this link:

According to First Selectman Jim Marpe, “The reality is that a great many Westport businesses and services can remain open under the governor’s new orders. I encourage you to make use of them reasonably, bearing in mind the greater need to self-isolate.If you are considering going out to a business, check online or by phone to make sure it is still open. Also keep in mind that many businesses have voluntarily closed despite the Governor’s order not applying to them.”

Trader Joe’s enforces the social distance rules — in its own, very recognizable font. 

If you are visiting a supermarket, or convenience store, please maintain appropriate social distancing while you shop, and encourage the personnel in these establishments to follow CDC and WWHD recommended hygiene procedures. The WWHD will be increasing its efforts to enforce proper hygiene procedures in all food service establishments, but customer encouragement will also go a long way. If anyone notices a business not following the proper protocols, please contact the Westport Weston Health District at 203-221-7199.

  • Town Hall and town offices are closed to the public until further notice, overriding the previous notice that they will be closed until March 31.Essential staff will remain on-site utilizing alternating work schedules with some staff working remotely. We are making efforts to keep town services available to the public, but delays may occur. If you need to reach a staff member, please call, leave a voicemail or send an email. (Department and staff directories are available on the website https://www.westportct.gov/about/staff-directory). If it is determined that an in-person meeting is necessary, staff will work to schedule with the recognition that appropriate measures will be taken in order to maintain adequate distancing and transfer of documents.
  • As a reminder, it is imperative that everyone stay home.  In the name of public safety, if you must go out, you must practice social distancing at all times and not gather in groups. You are placing yourselves and others at risk when you engage in behavior that is against the directives of health officials. Our public safety officials need to be focused on many more vital issues than enforcing personal responsibility and trying to deter congregating during this crisis. Do not congregate in any town parks or outdoor facilities, including but not limited to school properties.

This past weekend, we still experienced several instances of relatively large gatherings in our parks and on some of our athletic fields. We encourage all to get outside and get some exercise, but please do not gather in groups. Other communities around us are closing all of their parks, beaches and playgrounds.  We are trying to avoid this, but can only do this if all our residents practice social distancing and do not gather in groups.

Marpe’s Message: Do Not Congregate This Weekend. Look Out For Each Other. Don’t Point Fingers. Be Safe.

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

I’d like to update you on a number of aspects of the COVID-19 crisis that we are all facing. All the following information is on the Town website: www.westportct.gov. Please keep in mind that this is a fluid situation and conditions may change.

First, as we approach the weekend where the tendency is to leave our homes and socialize, it is more imperative than ever to stress the need for everyone to take this situation seriously and self-isolate.

Do not congregate in any location anywhere. This includes the town beaches, and Parks & Recreation and school facilities. If you must get provisions, practice social distancing at all times, even outside. These measures not only protect you, they are necessary to protect the public health and those around you.

This was the sight last Sunday at Compo Beach. It cannot be repeated this weekend.

Let me also assure you that the emphasis of town management activity is based on proven emergency response strategies. For the time being our Incident Response Team is focused on containment. Many other decisions will need to be made in the near future, but that is the status as of right now.

As I reported yesterday, 42 Westport residents have tested positive for COVID-19. That number is expected to grow. The virus is definitely among us. The Westport Weston Health District has tests scheduled for the next 3 Tuesdays. These will be conducted solely for Weston and Westport residents and by appointment only.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce has prepared a list of restaurants that are available for curbside takeout and delivery, as well and stores that offer special hours for seniors to shop. Click here to see.

Curbside pick-up and delivery is available from many restaurants in town.

In future videos and postings there will be information relative to how upcoming town public meetings will be conducted, including how the budget process will proceed.  Also, we anticipate discussions on business recovery and town recovery plans when the time is appropriate.

These are unprecedented times. It is vital that we manage our emotions and natural anxieties.

Perhaps take a moment to call a neighbor, friend or family member who may need a personal contact and a friendly voice. Of course, we cannot physically get close, but we may be able provide some level of comfort to those less fortunate or in circumstances more dire than our own.

My office has received numerous e-mails and calls relative to a particular incident in Westport that seemingly precipitated the spread of the coronavirus in town. While I understand the inclination for some to know the numbers, know exact locations and the identities of people involved, it is now past the point where any of that is relevant. The fact of the matter is that this could have been any one of us, and rumor-mongering and vilification of individuals is not who we are as a civil community.

Please be assured that Westport’s public safety, health and municipal officials are in constant contact with each other, and state authorities and experts, while we make day-to-day and hour-to-hour decisions. Many will not appreciate the severity of the directives, while others will feel they are not drastic enough. I appreciate your opinion, but everything is managed and implemented to benefit all residents.

Town Hall is closed to the public. However, municipal officials are working tirelessly on the coronavirus crisis. And employees are available by phone and email. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I would also like to take this moment to emphasize that I cannot be prouder of the response of our town employees. These dedicated personnel are among the most experienced and professional people that can be working on your behalf.  I appreciate their support, and I hope you will acknowledge their service if you see them – of course with appropriate social distancing.

In the meanwhile, continue to self-isolate and follow all the advice of the CDC: Wash your hands thoroughly, cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw it away, keep surfaces sanitized, do not touch your face, and maintain social distancing. Follow us through social media and the website www.westportct.gov/covid19

Together, we will weather this crisis. Thank you and have a safe weekend.

To view this message as a video, click below:

Marpe: 42 Westporters Test Positive; Testing Set For Bedford On Tuesday

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

In this time of uncertainty, I want to assure Westporters that our public health and public safety officials are working diligently to provide accurate and essential information to you on a daily basis, and to keep everyone as safe as possible. We are all in this together and we must respond as a civil community.

This afternoon, Governor Lamont indicated his reluctance to authorize a complete statewide shutdown, and I agree with his assessment, keeping in mind that the situation is very fluid and may change. In the meantime, it is imperative that every individual and business owner take this crisis seriously and do everything possible to maintain social distancing and minimize social interactions. Parents should also remind their children to do the same.

Today, the Westport Weston Health District shared with my office that as of this afternoon, the number of positive tests known by the WWHD is 42. This number is sure to rise as test results are reported. COVID-19 is in the community and we can’t stress enough the importance of self-isolation, social distancing, avoiding gatherings and practicing good hygiene.

The WWHD has also arranged in-car testing with an area medical practice (Murphy Medical Associates) to take place in the parking lot at Bedford Middle School. Pre-registration will be required. Visit www.coronatestct.com or call 203-658-6051 to learn more and begin the screening process.  Testing will occur on 3 Tuesdays (March 24 and 31, and April 7) from 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon.

Residents are reminded that if you feel symptoms of COVID-19, call your physician for a test referral. Regardless if you are tested or not, it is imperative that you stay home and self-isolate.

The COVID-19 virus is everywhwere.

Marpe Adds Salons, Barbers, Etc. To Closure List

Adding to his previous executive order declaring a civil emergency, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe has ordered the closure of “salons and other businesses that provide the services of barbers, hairdressers, cosmetologists, nail technicians, estheticians, eyelash technicians, and massage therapists, and salons and businesses that provide similar services.”

His order adds that all those professionals described above “are discouraged from providing such services to customers in homes and other private locations other than for their immediate families.”

The order is effective as of 2 p.m. today (Wednesday, March 18).

Salon 293 — and every other hair and nail establishment in Westport — must close as of 2 p.m. today.

URGENT: As 20 Residents Test Positive, Marpe Declares Civil Preparedness Emergency; All Restaurant Closed Inside; Other Closures Announced Too

1st Selectman Jim Marpe has announced that under the powers granted by Connecticut General Statute 28-8a and Westport’s Emergency Preparedness Ordinance, Chapter 26, Article III, he has declared a Local Civil Preparedness Emergency.  

The statute and ordinance allow for this declaration in the event of a local emergency creating a risk of severe hazards to life, welfare or property of the town of Westport or its residents, and includes any public health crisis occurring in or adversely affecting the town. The 1st Selectman says:

As of 8 p.m. today (Monday, March 16) the following will remain in effect until further notice:

  • All restaurants, including bars, delicatessens and other locations where food and/or beverages are prepared for on-premises consumption, are prohibited from all in-restaurant and outside service. No customers are allowed inside a restaurant. Delivery of food and beverages and curb-side pick-up of food and beverages is permitted, subject to all existing laws. This prohibition does not apply to cafeterias where employers provide meals exclusively for employees and residents/patients.
  • All commercial gyms and fitness centers shall be closed.
  • All nail and hair salons and barber shops shall serve by appointment only.
  • There shall be no social or other gatherings of any sort at the Inn at Longshore.

The onset of the COVID-19 virus has introduced a public health crisis to Westport. Westport Weston Public Health Department director Mark Cooper says that of the 31 Westport residents recently tested for the presence of the COVID-19 virus, 20 tested positive.  This confirms that the virus has developed a significant presence in our community, and highlights the need to take a much more aggressive action to limit the spread of the virus through social contact.

First Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper.

There have been repeated calls by the town and Health District for residents to socially isolate or distance themselves in order to “flatten the curve” of the virus spread. Nevertheless, many instances and opportunities to gather in groups and to further spread the virus remain.

Marpe adds, “I want to thank our residents, the public and private schools and all the local organizations, houses of worship, businesses and other groups that have worked to fulfill the previous request to not gather in groups. Unfortunately, based on the advice of Health director Mark Cooper and other public health experts, I concluded that the town must take additional steps under the LCPE to reduce any group gatherings and minimize social contact.

“We support and encourage local restaurant curb-side pick-up and direct delivery of food at this time. We recognize the financial and operational hardships that this introduces to the businesses and employees as well as the inconvenience to their customers. This decision has not been taken lightly, but is nevertheless demanded because of the risks of the current COVID-19 public health crisis. We encourage all residents to patronize any businesses that remain open under required conditions. Westport is committed to promoting the patronage of these businesses as much as possible.”

“Here are ways to follow the town news:

“We urge you to be vigilant, stay at home, and stay informed.”

Town Closes Beach Playground, Parking Lot

First selectman Jim Marpe says:

First of all, thank you to all our Westport residents for your cooperation during these unprecedented times.

Many of you have self-isolated in order to flatten the curve and curb the spread of COVID-19. I appreciate your actions.

Unfortunately, we believe you will need to do even more for the foreseeable future. Given the early spring-like weather, many of you have taken advantage of our beautiful Compo Beach and have congregated there.

We must remind you that congregating, even outdoors, in small or large groups, is contradictory to the advice of our Health Department leadership.

As a practical matter, we cannot close the entire access to Compo Beach.  However, we will be closing the playground at Compo Beach and the parking lots at Compo Beach and Burying Hill beach until further notice.

Whether you are using the beaches or just trying to get out of the house for a while, please do everything you can to practice social distancing and self-isolation.

Together we can minimize the impact of this terrible virus on our community. We have to work together and use common sense. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in these difficult times.

You can still go to Compo Beach. But the playground and parking lot are closed. (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

COVID-19: Local, State Updates

Westport municipal offices — including Town Hall, the Senior Center and the Parks & Recreation Department office — will remain closed to the public at least through March 31. Public meetings are canceled through at least that date too.

However, staff will be available by phone or email weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. First Selectman Jim Marpe urges residents to be patient regarding response time.

He adds, “The public is also encouraged to utilize the town’s online services, such as paying taxes electronically.” The town’s website is www.westportct.gov.

Town Hall is closed. However, employees will be available by phone and email. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)


State Representative Jonathan Steinberg reports that Governor Ned Lamont is launching a Joint Information Center to coordinate Connecticut’s response to COVID-19.

The goal is to provide residents, municipalities, school districts, hospitals, medical providers, colleges and universities, the business community, the media and others with specific information related to the state’s response to the virus outbreak..

There are many ways to stay up-to-date about COVID-19:

  • CT-N carries the Governor’s press conferences (with sign language)
  • Call  211 24/7 with questions about COVID-19
  • Text  CTCOVID to 898211 for updates
  • Smart Speaker:  Ask for the 411 Coronavirus podcast
  • For the blind without TTY capabilities, the CDC and national news updates are shared through the TuneInCOVIDUpdates podcast

Here are resources for small business owners:

Note also:

  • The state Insurance Department commissioner told all travel insurers that they should accommodate travel cancellation requests and take into account the circumstances of the state of emergency.
  • State civil statutes prohibit price gouging. The attorney general will be monitoring closely. If you suspect price gouging, file a complaint immediately with the Attorney General’s Office by calling 860-808-5318.
  • Eversource has suspended all disconnects for customers until the governor lifts the state of emergency.  This applies to electric, gas and water companies that are not municipally owned.

Avi Kaner On CNN: Supermarket Sales “Very Intense”; New Yorkers “Resilient”; Worries About Supply Chain, Transportation

This morning, CNN Headline News viewers got a look at the coronavirus crisis from inside a New York supermarket.

Avi Kaner — known locally as a former Board of Finance chair and 2nd selectman — is co-owner of Morton Williams, the 16-store New York chain.

Speaking in front of an Upper West Side shelf stripped of toilet paper, he described the last 10 days as “very intense.” Yesterday, Morton Williams had a near-400% increase in sales.

However, Kaner said, customers — in lines all the way to the back of the store –were “resilient, polite, and disciplined.”

While Morton Williams is not rationing any goods, some distributors are.

Kaner’s 2 biggest concerns are the supply chain, and transportation. He worries that employees might not be able to get to work.

For the full interview, click below.

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.