Westport adds restrictions for parks, athletics and high school goes remote

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Youth soccer programs return to Wakeman Park Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in Westport, Conn.

Youth soccer programs return to Wakeman Park Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in Westport, Conn.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Town officials have brought back certain restrictions at parks and athletic facilities to help stem the rise in the community’s coronavirus cases.

Staples High School will also be fully remote through Thanksgiving due to so many staff members quarantining, school officials announced Friday.

Investigations and contact tracing show parents or students participating in large gatherings, parties and sporting events are the cause of the new cases, Superintendent Thomas Scarice and First Selectman Jim Marpe said this week.

“We continue to see disturbing proof of these activities,” Marpe said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, they include images of young people in close contact with one another and without face coverings.”

He said the town is committed to help the schools and will promote guidance and regulations to curb these activities.

On Friday, the town announced fields, beaches and parks will remain open with some of the previous restrictions back in place. This includes golf cart rentals at the Longshore Golf Course going back to single-rider unless the riders are from the same household. The skatepark and basketball courts will remain open, but Marpe cautioned they could be closed if proper guidelines aren’t followed.

Higher-risk sports, such as boy’s lacrosse and 11-on-11 football, should not take place. The Parks and Recreation department pulled field permits and won’t issue new ones until further notice, according to the announcement.

Westport’s infection rate based on a 14-day rolling average was 22.4 cases per 100,000 people, according to state data. It’s also a red alert town — like many in Farifield County — under the state’s new classification system.

The state Department of Public Health advises anyone in a red alert town to limit leaving their homes and avoid gatherings with people they don’t live with. It also recommends postponing any organized activities where people can’t keep at least six feet apart and mask wearing can’t be maintained. Gatherings at private residences is capped at 10 people and high risk individuals should stay home.

Marpe’s initial announcement comes a day after secondary schools were switched to remote learning for the rest of the week due to the amount of staff members quarantining. At the time, there were 12 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school district.

Scarice announced six new cases late Thursday, including four at Staples High School and two at Green Farms Elementary School. The new high school cases also mean more students and staff are quarantining, all of whom have been contacted by officials, he said.

“In full candor, the ability to maintain in-person schooling is largely dependent on the vigilance of the community to apply the same mitigating measures your child experiences each day in school,” Scarice said Friday. “Our cases are widely related to lapses in the community.”

Scarice reminded parents to use the new hotline and email address to report if their children test positive. He also thanked Marpe for supporting the schools’ efforts to address coronavirus-related issues.

Marpe has credited school officials for helping reduce the spread.

“Mr. Scarice assures town officials that while COVID cases have been discovered in the school population, administrators’ swift response to new cases has resulted in little to no widespread COVID contamination,” Marpe wrote. “However, new cases require immediate attention, which include quarantining and contact tracing. While the lack of spread demonstrates that the processes in place are working, the schools are continually being challenged by new cases apparently brought on by outside activities.”

Marpe asked residents to continue to follow the COVID guidelines, including staying home while awaiting test results, wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding gatherings, practicing good hygiene and not playing contact sports.

“The ability for our schools to remain open for in-person learning is dependent on the actions of our entire community,” he said. “I continue to urge all residents to follow the appropriate public health protocols so that our community can remain open, but safe.”