Westport institutions adjust to potential COVID-19 spread

The+Westport+Public+Library+will+remain+closed+until+March+16+in+order+to+it+allow+for+deep-cleaning.+It+will+open+again+to+the+public+for+essential+services+only.

Photo by Ella Alpert ’22

The Westport Public Library will remain closed until March 16 in order to it allow for deep-cleaning. It will open again to the public for essential services only.

By Sophie Casey '20, Staples High School

Following a party attended by approximately 40 students and adults on March 5, one attendee—who was not a Westport resident— who is now presumptively positive for coronavirus may have infected 14 other party-goers who are now experiencing flu-like symptoms. 

There has been no positive confirmation of diagnosis in Westport residents as test kits have not yet been made available, but there is evidence of COVID-19 community spread in Westport, First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a live address. Marpe confirmed test kits are arriving soon.

“The reality is, once it starts to spread in the community, it’s beyond trying to stop it,” Mark Cooper, Director of Health Services for Westport and Weston, said at a press conference Wednesday. “It is likely that many people could have been exposed and will be exposed across Connecticut; this is not new. We kind of expected this would happen with this virus.”

The town is currently engaged in the process of obtaining a comprehensive list of all party attendees in order to contact all involved, assess their need for assistance and offer advice.

Our utmost concern here is the safety of our residents, but also the safety of our employees. We want to be sure that we’re doing everything we can to minimize the possible transmission of COVID-19.”

— Jim Marpe, First Selectman

“Our utmost concern here is the safety of our residents, but also the safety of our employees,” Marpe said. “We want to be sure that we’re doing everything we can to minimize the possible transmission of COVID-19.”

Earlier today, Interim Superintendent Dr. David Abbey announced the indefinite closure of public schools. According to John Bayers, Director of Human Resources and General Administration, the Board of Education has been preparing for a potential suspension of in-school learning alongside the Westport-Weston Health District for many weeks. Though the plan for students and faculty was accelerated after today’s events, the district will continue with online academic opportunities for all students. 

“There are many complexities with distance learning and one of the main issues that we run into is making sure that we’re providing equitable experiences, particularly [for] those with special needs,” Cooper said.

Other Westport facilities have also accommodated this new information, implementing changes to decrease the likelihood of becoming centers of transmission.  All school buildings will be deep-cleaned and further communication will be released this evening and tomorrow.

Westport Town Hall will be closed to the public on March 12 and 13 for town employees to discuss the process moving forward. The Westport Center for Senior Activities will also be closed until Friday, and likely further, however, staff will continue working and remain on-call Elaine Daignault, Director of Human Services, said. The Toquet Hall Teen Center will also be closed.

Photo by Natalie Bandura ’22
First Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and BOE Chair Candice Savin (right) were both in attendance alongside other Westport officials during a press conference to discuss the town-wide implications of COVID-19.

The Human Services Department will also maintain all essential services. Home-delivered meals will continue to be delivered to residents who are home-bound. Daignault urges all residents to reach out to neighbors should they be in need of assistance.

The Westport Public Library will be closed for the remainder of the week for deep cleaning. According to Executive Director Bill Harmer, it will open again to the public on Monday, for essential services only. Patrons will be allowed to enter the building to check out books and materials, as well as consult reference librarians, though other programs will be suspended. Harmer emphasized that the library is actively encouraging all residents to take advantage of digital services during this time.

“We’re making this move to support the important preventative measures achieved through social distancing that has been advised by the CDC,” Harmer said.

All municipal public meetings have been canceled for the foreseeable future, including upcoming Planning and Zoning Commission meetings and the Board of Finance’s budget hearing with the Board of Education. 

Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management Robert Yost reported that Westport Emergency Services has not yet experienced any calls related to the coronavirus, but is prepared should it occur. Westport Emergency Medical Services (EMS) possesses a cache of personal protective equipment. Earlier in the week, EMS personnel received detailed guidelines for responding to COVID-19 patients. 

“This too shall pass,” Cooper assured Westport residents. “Things will hopefully return back to normal.”

This story was originally published on Inklings on March 11, 2020.