Westport officials urge residents to stay informed amid coronavirus concerns
WESTPORT — With coronavirus fears continuing to spread as fast as the virus itself, Westport officials are preparing for any local outbreak.
On Sunday, town and state officials held a public information session on coronavirus at the Westport Library to inform residents how to prepare and protect themselves. In attendance for the panel were First Selectman Jim Marpe, Westport-Weston Health District’s Director of Health Mark Cooper and Westport Fire Chief Robert Yost.
“The Health District is in constant contact with the state’s Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control,” Marpe said. “These are the reliable sources of quality information that will guide our decision process.”
Just days ago, Gov. Ned Lamont announced two known cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut, one being an employee of Danbury and Norwalk hospitals.
“Ironically, both of them live in Westchester County,” Marpe said. “So, the reality of this virus is coming closer.”
Officials cautioned residents to only receive their information from reliable sources such as the health district’s official website. They also stressed residents not to panic, but to exercise caution by washing their hands and staying home if they feel sick.
Cooper noted the health district has been monitoring the virus since it first broke out in China, and that health districts across the state have been engaged in information sharing.
“COVID-19 may not be in Westport or Weston right now today as we know it at this moment, but it is at our doorstep and without a doubt it is going to be here,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s warning served as foreshadowing, as Lamont announced the first case involving a state resident was confirmed in Wilton before the forum ended.
The current mortality rate for coronavirus only reflects those sick enough to go to the hospital.
“As more people are tested, the denominator of all those who have coronavirus will increase substantially,” Cooper said, adding as more people are tested, the mortality rate is bound to go down.
Town, school and state officials alike all have been preparing plans in case of an outbreak, though there has not yet been a reason to close businesses or town hall.
“Each and everyone of us has to take the responsibility to do what we can to reduce the risk of exposure for ourselves, our families, loved ones and, yes, the most vulnerable of our population from getting severe illness,” Cooper said. “Truly we are all in this together.”
Suzanne Levasseur, health services supervisor for Westport Public Schools, said the district is being as proactive as it can to mitigate concerns.
“We are continuously monitoring new developments,” she said, particularly hand-washing in the schools.
Levasseur said schools have bought additional supplies for hand sanitizing, and have stepped up cleaning procedures. Plans are in place if the district has to close schools, she added.
“Whether that looks like online learning or learning packets for our elementary school students, that is in progress and is happening and is a work in progress,” Levasseur said.
As coronavirus concerns grow, local stores have begun feeling the effects. At CVS on Post Road East, one employee said the shop has been out of surgical masks since the virus was first announced weeks ago. Similarly, signs inside the Stop and Shop on Post Road East announced the store was out of stock for hand sanitizer.
Russell Levine, owner of Colonial Druggist on Post Road East, said an influx of residents have visited his store purchasing masks and medicine.
“It’s been going on for about five weeks,” he said.
Levine said his best advice in the interim is for people to steer clear of crowds and wash their hands.
But the coronavirus isn’t the first scare he’s seen since starting his business in 1954. Over the years, Levine said he’s witnessed his fair share of panic, ranging from the SARS virus outbreak in 2003 to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
“I’ve seen these situations over and over again,” he said. “Some are more serious than others, but eventually things do go back to normal.”