Coronavirus in Wilton–Town Response, Bare Toilet Paper Shelves, Business Scrambles and Work-From-Home

Until Sunday, coronavirus was conceptual; yesterday’s announcement by Gov. Ned Lamont that a Wilton resident was the state’s first positive case of the COVID-19 virus sent shock waves through the community.

While some residents ran to food markets for the last remaining packages of toilet paper, others took to social media to discuss whether or not the schools should close or if people need to calm down and go about life as normal.

Town officials responded after the announcement about the Wilton patient, described as a person aged 40-50 who had traveled to California and sought medical care shortly after returning to Connecticut. The case is considered ‘presumptive positive’ until it is confirmed by the CDC.

While almost all references to the patient have been gender-neutral, other media is referring to the person as a man after the governor used the pronoun ‘he’ once. Officials are unable to comment or confirm any identifying details, including whether the patient has school-aged (or younger) children, although the president of Danbury Hospital (where the patient is being treated) used the word ‘family’ in his statement.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice issued a statement immediately after the governor’s office made the initial announcement:

“We have been advised by the Connecticut Department of Public Heath of a presumptive case of coronavirus and that the patient is a Wilton resident. Contract tracing is ongoing. Our information at this time is limited. We will be maintaining ongoing contact with the Department of Public Health. As more information becomes available, we will update the public accordingly. We have been prepared for this possibility. Our thoughts and prayers are with the patient and any family.”

We asked Vanderslice some for some clarification and here’s what she told us:

  • Contact tracing is being performed by epidemiologists with the State Department of Public Health, not the town.
  • She is unable to disclose any patient identifying information.

She also provided the following information:

  1. What steps have been taken for town employees? (town clerk, tax and collector) Any changes to SOP between employees and the public?  All employees will be practicing social distancing and residents will be asked to do the same. For example, visitors will no longer be allowed to walk right up to an employee’s desk and wait while their paperwork is being processed. Their paperwork will be taken for processing and they will be asked wait in a designated area.  This already began in some departments last week.  Where necessary, physical changes will be made to facilitate social distancing. Social distancing signage has been created and will be distributed tomorrow by the Health Department to be displayed in all departments.  We ask the public’s cooperation and understanding that this is being done for their safety and that of our employees.  Our highest priority is the safety of the public and our employees, with emphasis on our emergency services personnel and WVAC volunteers.
  2. Are Parks & Rec classes and programs, ongoing? Cancelled?  They are ongoing.
  3. What about meetings and programs at Comstock, including Social Services?  Ongoing.  Residents should keep a distance between themselves and other attendees, such as leaving a seat between them the person sitting adjacent or behind them.
  4. What would trigger closing schools? At this point, decisions about schools are being made by the school administration. They are in regular contact with the Town’s health director Barry Bogle.
  5. Do Wilton Emergency services (Police, fire, Wilton Ambulance) have the masks and supplies they need?  Emergency services personnel have the required personal protection equipment (PPE).
  6. What Cleaning procedures have been increased in town?  Cleaning procedures have been increased with special attention to frequently touched surfaces like door handles.  The frequency of cleaning is being increased at the police station and professional cleaners, as opposed to just firefighters, will be cleaning fire buildings.

Earlier in the day, the town had posted an announcement about town procedures and preparation on the town website:

The following is an update as to actions taken by the Town of Wilton to educate, protect and prepare our community during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Town has adopted the CDC’s non pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) recommended approach for a pandemic, even though a pandemic has not been officially declared.  NPI is a three-pronged approach:

Personal, Environmental and Community

Personal: All residents are asked to take personal responsibility for their health and the health of their family members through active monitoring of their health.  This should include twice daily temperature checks and the following preventative measures:

    • Frequent handwashing with soap for at least 20 seconds and use of hand sanitizers, with at least 60% alcohol, when soap is not available
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
    • Cough into a tissue and then throw the tissue away.  If tissues aren’t available, cough into your elbow
    • Stay home when you are sick
    • Contract your personal physician if you have concerns about your health

Environmental:

    • Use extra care to clean and disinfect surfaces, including door handles, cell phones and keyboards
    • Use household products specifically designed to disinfect

Community:  All residents are asked to practice social distancing.

    • Maintain a distance between yourself and others.  Six feet is ideal, three feet is a recommended minimal distance
    • When attending public events, leave a seat between you and the person adjacent and behind you

The State has implemented a coronavirus hotline for general questions.  Call 2-1-1 or text “CTCOVID” to 898211.

The Town’s health and public safety and medical personnel have been and are prepared for medical emergencies.  Additional proactive measures have been taken, including additional meetings and coordination within town government and meetings and coordination with the Wilton public schools, VNA school and public health nurses, Norwalk Hospital, Wilton long-term care facilities, Wilton private schools, preschools and daycare facilities and certain Wilton businesses.

Social distancing protocols have been developed and have or are in the process of adoption by town departments and employees.  We request the public’s cooperation when visiting a town building.

Town buildings are equipped with hand sanitizers and cleaning protocols have been increased.

Health Director Barry Bogle and members of the health department will continue to review protocols and provide guidance across government functions and the community.  Additional information will be added to the department’s webpage.   Sign up for e-alerts on the town website.

We encourage residents to visit the CDC website and the State’s special coronavirus website (on this site, click on red bar at top of page to access State’s special coronavirus website).  Both sites are being continuously updated, so please periodically circle back.

As always, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Wilton Schools to Remain Open For Now

After the governor’s announcement, the Wilton Public Schools sent members of the school community a letter from the school district’s emergency operations point person Maria Coleman, which said that school officials were “in immediate contact with Wilton Director of Health Barrington Bogle.” They were not advised to close schools, but will “continue to monitor the situation very closely” and will provide updates as information becomes available.

GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with Coleman after the letter was sent. She told us the decision to remain open was made “on the recommendation of the health department” and the medical professionals with whom the district works. “Based on whatever they have been able to confirm it was recommended that we hold school,” she said.

Coleman said the district does not have any information on the identity of the Wilton patient nor whether they have children in the district. The only thing Coleman says administrators were told was that opening the schools on Monday would be okay.

On Friday, school officials announced that all school-sponsored before and after-school activities would be postponed “in an effort to reduce the number of non-essential group gatherings” in order to prevent potential spread of illness. Coleman reiterated that the decision to curtail activities was made “out of an abundance of caution, not because of a specific event or concern about a person or group of people within our schools.”

Additional steps and plans for possible continuity of instruction in the case of school closure will be shared later this week. Coleman talked about this in an interview with GOOD Morning Wilton on Friday.

While Public Stockpiles Food & Toilet Paper, What About Wilton Social Service and Food Pantry

From Stop & Shop to Costco, stores across Fairfield County are being shopped clean of toilet paper, disinfectant and sundry supplies as the public reacts to coronavirus fears. But what about community members unable to take the same steps.

GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to ask Wilton Social Services director Sarah Heath what impact, if any, her department has seen and how it is responding.

“We ordered extra supplies from Pea Pod last week, since we are fortunate enough to have the funds from Wilton Rocks for Food/Andy Schlesinger, and as luck would have it, this weekend is one of the Kiwanis Food Drives,” she said. That effort helps replenish gift cards and stock the Food Pantry shelves with household supplies, personal care items, and food for about three weeks following a drive.

Heath says she hopes that social service clients are proactively stocking up. “If our Food Pantry clients are in need of additional food or supplies, we are able to offer an extra bag or two for them to fill,” she said.

Of course, donations are always appreciated, especially while the public at large is stocking up their own personal pantries. “The food and household supplies or personal care items will always go to a resident in need, here in Wilton,” Heath said.

One specific event that has been cancelled is the March 18 Ogden House luncheon. “We need to be careful with both our staff, volunteers, and elderly residents. We can have anywhere between 30-100 seniors at these luncheons,” Heath noted.

Religious Services

Some of the religious organizations in town have made subtle adjustments to the way they’re conducting services, but activities are continuing.

Our Lady of Fatima Church:  The Bridgeport Diocese has asked pastors to suspend offering wine at masses; parishioners are encouraged to use gestures other than shaking hands, holding hands, etc. at various points in the service. Parishes will replace Holy Water “more frequently,” make sure that handrails, restrooms and pews are properly disinfected, and offer hand sanitizer at church entrances. Parishioners are reminded that if they are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, they are not obliged to attend Sunday Mass. They are also reminded “to pray for an end to this illness and to keep all those who have died from and who are adversely affected by the Coronavirus in [their] prayers.”

Wilton Presbyterian Church:  Rev. Shannon White said Sunday service continue with Communion using individually wrapped wafers and juice cups. Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed outside the sanctuary and people are urged to use it before coming to coffee hour. “I am not shaking hands at the door. Coffee hour will go on with the advice that people stay a few feet apart. We will have Bible study as scheduled with allow people to spread out. Youth group will go on at this point but in a larger room, so people can spread out,” White said, adding, “We are using precautions but urging people not to panic.”

Wilton Hindu Temple:  “After careful consideration, to protect our members while simultaneously providing spiritual services, we have made changes to our upcoming program of activities and are instituting new behavioral requirements:

  • The Temple will continue to remain open weekdays 7:45 a.m.-1 p.m., and 5-9 p.m.; weekends/holidays/festivals 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.. Holi Celebration, scheduled for Saturday, March 14, is cancelled.
  • In addition to increased hand-washing and usage of hand sanitizer (provided at stations) members are encouraged to avoid close contact with people who are sick and try to avoid shaking hands. Modify greetings by simply saying “Namaste” and practicing the action of “Anjali Mudra,” a slight bow with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest.
  • Frequently touched surfaces will be thoroughly cleaned.

Other Events Cancelled

GOOD Morning Wilton is running another article with an ongoing list of cancellations. Here are a few of what we have most immediately:

March 9  Wilton Police Department Awards Ceremony–CANCELLED

March 10  Stay at Home in Wilton’s Men’s Breakfast–CANCELLED

March 10 Wilton High School Spring Coach/Parent Meeting–CANCELLED School officials will updated families on further changes. The Athletic Department will provide all necessary information to families for students to try out for a spring sport.

March 13-15  Matilda the MusicalSTILL ON  “The show will go on!” say producers. “We are monitoring the situation and working with the Wilton Health Department to take necessary precautions but we are going ahead with our performances next weekend.”

Community Impact and Reactions

We asked readers for their anecdotes and thoughts about what’s going on. Here are some of the responses we’ve received:

Sold out flour pallet at Costco (contributed: Matt Schmitt)

Susan Schmitt, owner The Painted Cookie:  “I have to use King Arthur flour as I have it verified safe for nut and sesame allergies. We were shocked when Costco, where we usually get our 25 lb. bags, was out of stock. Never saw that happen ever before. Both local Walmarts and Stop & Shop Wilton were out as well. Panicked, I ended up ordering online at more than 2x the price directly from King Arthur. A bakery can’t be without flour right? I called Costco every day for the past week to see if a delivery had been received. Spoke with someone yesterday around 2 p.m. and they confirmed that two pallets were stocked. We got there around 4 p.m. and grabbed the last six bags for us. I couldn’t believe they sold out that many again in one day. I don’t know if it is consumer or other food businesses buying but it only started two weeks ago with the scare of the virus. Costco said they even sold out of toilet paper last Saturday. Never thought that would happen either.”

Alyssa Friedman-Yan, LCSW, private therapist:  “I have had a sharp uptick in cancellations, nervous emails, and panicked sessions. I am able to accommodate the needs of my clients through video and phone sessions in an effort to minimize anxieties for those who do not want to have close, face-to-face contact. The amount of mixed information that is flooding us all is taking a great toll on the mental health of every community. Fear, misinformation, hoarding… some news outlets encourage it, and others dismiss it completely.

“I thank you for you service of delivering the facts as they are presented, and I offer my services to the community in this deeply anxious time as a mental health professional, and crisis worker. These are scary times, and this virus is presenting as a deep trigger for so many individuals who want to make the right choices.”

Ashley Kineon:  “I’m in supply chain for a local company and the majority of our vendors are located in China, and are directly impacted by COVID-19. We’ve lost 4-6 weeks of stock replenishment but the flip side is that it gives us a chance to decrease our obsolete inventory.

“We’ve heard from the vast majority of our vendors that even when the factories do reopen, the government is restricting how many employees can be working in one factory at a time. Many of the workers may still be quarantined based on where they live. It’s going to be another few weeks before our factories are fully operational and likely months before supply chain returns to normal.”

main image photo:  Rob Hunt

2 COMMENTS

  1. We would like to know if the first confirmed case has any contact with any of the schools in Wilton. Health department can make decision to open school, but at least, we should have sufficient information and feel confident that your decision is correct at this point of the time. No further explanation is causing rumors and chaos. Please also look around to see how other towns react and look social media to understand people’s concern.

    • Town officials have updated information available to the residents to the best their ability. Today, first selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice did an on-camera, live interview with us in which she addressed what information can and cannot be disseminated publicly and what health officials are considering. School district officials have also commented about what information they have and how they are making decisions.

Comments are closed.