On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the CT Department of Public Health reported one new fatality linked to COVID-19 and 15 new COVID-19 cases in Wilton.

But what captured Wilton’s attention on Wednesday afternoon was a report released by Wilton Health Director Barry Bogle on the Health Department’s investigation of the recent COVID-19 outbreak among Wilton High School students.

The outbreak followed multiple parties and gatherings attended by students over the weekend of Jan. 15-18. In the report, Bogle says that 25 known confirmed positive cases have been associated with the gatherings so far, and he details the contact tracing used to establish a timeline of how and when infected students may have had direct contact with other WHS students as well as with individuals outside the school.

It also explains Bogle ordered the school to close to prevent an even larger outbreak. Because officials can’t identify everyone who attended the gatherings, they can’t determine who else from WHS–or the wider community–may have been exposed after coming in contact with any COVID-19-positive students at the parties or in the days after.

Anyone who was directly exposed would have had to quarantine, but since officials can’t definitively trace everyone who came in contact with someone COVID-positive, they had to assume there’s a possibility even more people than they know are COVID positive.

“According to the CDC, ‘Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus,’ reminds First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, explaining why the quarantine period is 14 days.

With the possibility that more exposed students attended school on Jan. 19 not yet exhibiting symptoms, it’s conceivable they could have spread the virus to even more people. Officials wanted to prevent those unidentified exposed students from coming in contact with the wider community but because they can’t pinpoint exactly who needed to be quarantined, they were forced to close the school to everyone for 14 days in order to stop the virus from spreading even more.

One other key point is specified in Bogle’s report:  there was one student present at one or more of the weekend parties and then attended WHS in-person on Tuesday, Jan. 19, who has not cooperated with contact tracing.

As a result, the Health Department knows nothing about that student’s health status, including whether that student is exhibiting any symptoms or has a pending COVID-19 test. In addition, neither the Health Department nor the WHS health liaisons have information as to the number of direct contacts that one student had while in school on Jan. 19, or outside of school.

The report singles out the situation as one of the two reasons why Wilton High School has stayed closed. Several members of the public told GOOD Morning Wilton that they assumed the student’s lack of cooperation was the primary reason why the school couldn’t be open.

Vanderslice wouldn’t comment on the idea that the one holdout student was primarily responsible for the WHS 14-day closure, directing attention back to the report, which also included a second reason from Bogle:  “In the absence of that knowledge and with daily new cases among WHS students, who were direct contacts of attendees, Wilton High School remains closed.”

She did reiterate that participation in contact tracing is not mandatory for residents, but it is helpful–and confidential.

“I want to emphasize that we encourage residents to participate in contact tracing, but it is optional. As I noted in tonight’s update, participation in contact tracing helped to contain the spread.

“The Health Department’s contact tracers have a singular focus, tracing the contacts in order to minimize the spread. All information is confidential in compliance with HIPAA laws. They only tell me the age of those who test positive. They do not tell me the name of those testing positive, the names of their direct contacts, the number of direct contacts or any other information obtained as part of their contact tracing. When contacting a direct contact, the Wilton Health Department does not tell the direct contact the name of the person with whom they had contact.”

She also explained that, while contact tracing is typically performed only for residents who test positive, because of the outbreak the Health department also contact traced for attendees even if they hadn’t tested positive. Since then, additional WHS students and non-students who came in direct contact with attendees continue to test positive, and new cases are reported daily–each of which requires contact tracing as well.

In her nightly report to residents, Vanderslice underscored the contact tracing work being done by Bogle and the Health Department, and the Wilton School District.

“His report clearly demonstrated the critical importance of the swift response by school and health department personal and the cooperation of gathering attendees. The number of positive cases connected to the gathering stood at 25 as of yesterday afternoon. Without swift containment, cooperation and contact tracing, yesterday’s cases easily could have been double that or more.”

Vanderslice also said what has happened as a result of the gatherings and the two recent outbreaks in Wilton–this one at WHS and the second at School Sisters of Notre Dame–should raise a flag with residents about being careful.

“With both the WHS and SSND outbreaks, we saw the fast speed at which the virus can spread. If the gatherings over the MLK weekend weren’t the first such gatherings in Wilton during this pandemic, why did these gatherings result in so many cases, when others didn’t? The one previous case at SSND didn’t spread to other residents. Why did this one new case quickly spread to what is likely to be more than 40 residents and staff? At this point, we don’t have the answers. But, the outbreaks are a caution to all residents, especially at a time when Wilton and almost every other municipality in the state are classified as a red alert community because of our high average daily case rates,” she wrote.

Known Positive Cases Linked to WHS Gatherings

From the investigation, the Health Department found a total of 25 known confirmed positive cases associated with the weekend gatherings, with one test pending:

  • 16 attendees, all WHS students, are confirmed positive and currently under isolation
  • 3 WHS students, who did not attend, but had direct contact with attendees, confirmed positive and also under isolation
  • 1 Middlebrook Middle School student, who did not attend, but had direct contact with attendees, confirmed positive and currently under isolation
  • 1 Cider Mill School student, who did not attend, but had direct contact with attendees, confirmed positive and currently under isolation
  • 4 non-school-aged persons, who did not attend, but had direct contact with attendees, confirmed positive and also under isolation
  • 1 attendee under quarantine pending test results

Contact Tracing Completed

As part of the investigation, Bogle and his department personnel conducted contact tracing with as many individuals as possible. The status of the department’s contact tracing includes:

  • 22 attendees, including the 16 positive students, participated in contact tracing
  • 1 attendee, a WHS student, has not responded to attempts to contact trace
  • 9 people with direct contact with attendees and reported as confirmed positive participated in contact tracing.
  • After each attendee was identified, they and their family members and direct contacts were ordered to quarantine for 14 days from the Jan. 15 gathering.

Outbreak Timeline

Friday, Jan. 15:  The gathering identified as the source of the outbreak took place on Friday. Protocols to prevent the spread of the COVID virus–including limiting the number of attendees, mask-wearing and social distancing–were not followed.

Saturday, Jan. 16:  A second gathering was held and attended by some of the same students who attended the Jan. 15 gathering, as well as other WHS students.

Saturday, Jan. 16:  A third gathering was held with students who had been at one or more of the other two events possibly in attendance.

Neither event on Saturday enforced adherence to protocols to prevent spread of the virus. In addition, the total number of attendees at the second and third gatherings was unknown. The scope of the cross-over of attendees between all three gatherings was also unknown.

Tuesday, Jan. 19:  An unknown number of WHS students who had been present at the weekend gatherings on Jan. 15 and 16 attend school in person.

Wednesday, Jan. 20:  Two WHS students self-report positive COVID-19 test results. They report having been in person at WHS on Tuesday, Jan. 19. They also provide information about the gathering they attended on Jan. 15 with other WHS students and about the two additional gatherings held that weekend.

Wednesday, Jan. 20:  Bogle orders that WHS be closed for 14 days because COVID-19 positive students attended WHS on Jan. 19, through Tuesday, Feb. 2.

All WHS students are asked to stay home and monitor for symptoms until further notice, because of the potential for an outbreak throughout the entire Wilton community.

Monday, Jan. 25:  At 10 days after the gathering, sufficient information had been obtained through contact tracing for Bogle to determine that the risk of an outbreak throughout the entire Wilton community is minimal. He rescinds his request for students to stay home but continues his request for them to monitor for symptoms for four more days.

Major Findings Contributing to the Decision to Close WHS

The report presents Bogle’s rationale for deciding to close WHS, and explains that his intent in closing the school “was to contain any additional spread within the WHS community.”

Bogle found there was a possibility of an outbreak because:

  • an unknown number of WHS students had direct contact to one or more students who were COVID-positive while at up to three gatherings over the weekend
  • an unknown number of WHS students and staff had direct contact with an unknown number of WHS students who were COVID-positive, who attended school in-person on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

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CLARIFICATION:  The story and timeline have been adjusted to reflect that Wednesday, Jan. 20 is a remote learning day at Wilton High School and no students were present in school that day. While the Health Director’s report also contains the typo that students were in school on “Tuesday, Jan. 20” it should state “Tuesday, Jan. 19.” All references to students being in school on Wednesday, Jan. 20 have been corrected above.