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Mar 24 2020

Plague on the Gold Coast

That’s what us Nutmeggers call Fairfield County which is reliably one of the Top Five wealthiest in the United States. As I’ve said before I have a passing familiarity (worked for a long time within a mile of Sandy Hook Elementary).

Unlike what you might think, and despite the statistics, there are many areas that are not so wonderful- Bridgeport for instance, largest City in Connecticut. It has it’s highlights (only Zoo, Barnum Museum, Research AND Circulating Libraries) but from the highway it’s mostly a dump (to be fair it has Tall Buildings so you can practice leaping them in a single bound) of burned out Factories and dilapidated 3 Family Walkups that used to be the Worker’s homes.

It’s not bad, it’s a City. There are places I’ll only go by invitation but I glow in the dark, I’ve never felt unsafe and I worked there for a long time too.

But it ain’t Westport. Just so you know, Westport is not even the swankiest Town/City in Fairfield County, those would be Greenwich and Darien, but Martha Stuart lives there so everyone thinks it’s all that.

I seldom visit. They have a bunch of quirky Shops but none of them are bargains.

Party Zero: How a Soirée in Connecticut Became a ‘Super Spreader’
By Elizabeth Williamson and Kristin Hussey, The New York Times
March 23, 2020

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.

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.

The visitor from Johannesburg — a 43-year-old businessman, according to a report from South Africa — fell ill on his flight home, spreading the virus not only in the country but possibly to fellow passengers. The party guests attended other gatherings. They went to work at jobs throughout the New York metropolitan area. Their children went to school and day care, soccer games and after-school sports.

A South African businessman who had stopped in Westport for a party had fallen ill on the plane home to Johannesburg.

“I thought it was good old man flu,” the businessman told The Sunday Times in South Africa, speaking anonymously in a March 15 article. Unlike in the United States, where tests remain in short supply and results come slowly, the man was tested and received word in a day. He was positive.

The number of sick people in Fairfield County then soared. On March 16, Governor Lamont closed restaurants and public buildings statewide. Even in a well-connected, affluent town like Westport, contact tracing quickly overwhelmed health officials. Beyond the 50 attendees, “there were another 120 on our dance list,” some of whom probably were not at the party, Mr. Cooper said. One of the party guests later acknowledged attending an event with 420 other people, he said. The officials gave up.

“They think at least 100 times as many people are infected as what the tests are showing,” Arpad Krizsan, who owns a financial advisory firm in Westport and lives in the community, said on Saturday. “And everybody goes to the same four shops.”

Worry, rumors and recriminations engulfed the town. Political leaders fielded hundreds of emails and phone calls from residents terrified that their children or vulnerable family members had been exposed. Who threw the party, and who attended? They wanted to know. Rumors flew that some residents were telling health officials they had attended the party so they could obtain a scarce test.

As the disease spread, many residents kept mum, worried about being ostracized by their neighbors and that their children would be kicked off coveted sports teams or miss school events.

One local woman compared going public with a Covid-19 diagnosis to “having an S.T.D.”

“I don’t think that’s a crazy comparison,” said Will Haskell, the state senator who represents Westport. He has been fielding frantic phone calls from constituents.

Most residents were exercising recommended vigilance, Mr. Haskell said, but one call that stuck out to him was from a woman awaiting test results whose entire family had been exposed to the virus. “She wanted to know whether or not to tell her friends and social network,” he said, because she was worried about “social stigma.”

Mr. Haskell, who has been delivering his grandparents’ medication to their Westport doorstep and leaving it outside, was incredulous. “This is life or death,” he said in an interview. “Westport really is a cautionary tale of what we’re soon to see.”