One Year Later: A Look Back at Wilton’s Year in Covid-19

Today is the one-year anniversary of the news that the first COVID-19 patient in CT had been hospitalized. It turned out that CT’s “patient zero” was a Wilton resident. The next 364 days have been like nothing most of us have ever experienced before.

A search of items GOOD Morning Wilton published in that time about the town and its response to COVID-19 turns up 688 items.

We’ve created a timeline below to track what has happened in the last year. It reveals a dedicated group of leaders and public servants in Wilton’s municipal government and school district who have led the town through an unprecedented time; a business community that has weathered a year that shook its foundations; and a populace that, at most times, has pulled together and reached beyond to help one another.

It’s a year of press coverage of which we’re very proud. GOOD Morning Wilton approached covering the pandemic with the thought that while we weren’t directly involved in health care, our work could help save lives, and we did everything we could to make sure Wilton coped and survived as best as possible. More than simply being a record of history, GMW strove to help keep the community protected.

March 8, 2020: Gov. Ned Lamont announces Connecticut’s first positive COVID-19 case The patient is a resident of Wilton who is 40-50 years of age, who according to the governor, most likely became infected during a recent trip to California and sought medical care shortly after returning to Connecticut. [Editor’s Note:  watch our video interview with that patient, Chris Tillett, running today on the one-year anniversary of that announcement to see how he is now.]

March 9, 2020: The CT State Department of Education asks local school districts to prepare for possible long-term closures. All students and teaching staff are asked to bring home devices and essential texts every evening, in preparation for potential unexpected school closings.

March 10, 2020: The wife of Wilton’s first COVID patient opens up about her husband’s health and asks for community support.

March 11, 2020: All Wilton Public Schools close in response to Gov. Ned Lamont‘s announcement of a state of emergency. All sports and other activities involving Wilton public school students are suspended until further notice. CIAC cancels all winter events and Wilton Library, Trackside Teen Center, Comstock Community Center close until further notice. The expectation is that the suspension of school and activities will be temporary.

March 16, 2020: Gov. Ned Lamont closes gyms and movie theaters and announces that restaurants and bars that serve food are required to move to take-out and delivery services only. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey introduce similar plans to slow the spread of the virus.

March 19, 2020: First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice issues an Emergency Executive Order, closing all barber, hair, and nail salons, referring to a growing number of coronavirus infections in Connecticut and in neighboring states. She also points to public health officials’ recommendations to limit meeting in large groups and the need for social distancing.

March 21, 2020: Gov. Ned Lamont orders all non-essential employees and businesses to “Stay Safe Stay Home”. Non-essential workplaces are ordered to transition to 100% work-from-home and telecommuting. At this point, COVID-19 cases in Fairfield County have reached 122, up by 20 in 2 days.

March 27, 2020: Wilton BOE cancels spring break and reviews the first week of online learning. Parents express concerns about asynchronous learning and too much screen time for kids.

April 7, 2020: First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice closes almost all Wilton fields as the town’s COVID cases climb to 86 total. 

April 16, 2020: Wilton’s COVID deaths reach 11 and cases rise to 99 total regardless of closures.

April 17, 2020: Gov. Ned Lamont implements a mask mandate. The state also launches a new “Talk It Out” hotline to help families experiencing the stress of caring for children during the pandemic.

April 20, 2020:  Kim Zemo, the district’s safe school climate coordinator, reports on mental health at WPS. She expresses concern that long-term social isolation will have negative effects on already-stressed families.

April 23, 2020: Wilton residents redefine celebrations with birthday car parades to spread joy at a distance.

April 27, 2020: Wilton’s volunteer mask army comes together to support and assist front-line and healthcare workers, seniors, and the general community. Warrior Helpers, WILTON PPE4ALL, and other individuals tackle PPE, in a coordinated effort to address the current shortage of supplies. Lynn Martines launches Warriors’ Frontline Appreciation to raise money for meals for nurses, doctors, technicians, and support staff working on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. Wilton teens lead their own support efforts for struggling groups.

April 28, 2020: COVID-19 in Wilton worsens, with 144 total cases and 26 deaths. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice urges Wilton residents to “behave as if you have the virus and as if those around you do as well.”

May 5, 2020: Gov. Ned Lamont cancels in-person classes at K-12 public schools for the remainder of the academic year.

May 7, 2020: Wilton’s college students adjust to unexpected homecomings and virtual learning.

May 11, 2020: The state announces Phase 1 reopenings, which include industry-specific rules for restaurants, offices, retail, hair salons, barbershops, museums, and zoos, to begin May 20.

May 14, 2020: State Senator Will Haskell is one of 11 Senators to sign a letter to Gov. Ned  Lamont questioning the pace of reopening in CT. 

May 20, 2020Class of 2021 athletes stay resilient despite lack of season, adapting to new changes in the college sport recruiting process.

May 21, 2020: Wilton celebrates Memorial Day safely with video tribute Memorial Day 2020 Lest We Forget.

May 24, 2020: Wilton High School releases tentative graduation plans to the Class of 2020. Wilton seniors respond with both disappointment and understanding. 

May 29, 2020: Gov. Ned Lamont loosens restrictions on social gatherings, explaining, “We’re 75% off our peak now.” Wilton COVID cases reach 201, and fatalities hit 37.

June 1, 2020: Wilton joins the nation in calls against police violence and racism in a socially distant Walk for Peace and an End to Racism“. COVID-19 has hit Black and Brown communities especially hard, as inequities in social determinants of health put racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.

June 2, 2020: Local political candidates adapt to campaigning in the age of COVID, ditching traditional door-knocking and engaging with voters virtually.

June 8, 2020: The state announces that Phase 2 of reopening, which describes capacity limits and safety regulations for eligible businesses, will begin June 17. Wilton Public Schools’ officials also respond to concerns about remote learning forcing the district to lower its academic standards.

June 15, 2020: WHS Class of 2020 celebrates a socially distant drive-through graduation ceremony. 

June 18, 2020: COVID-19 data indicates a bending of the curve, with the CT hospitalization and positivity rates reaching their lowest points since the pandemic began.

June 22, 2020: Wilton’s working mothers respond to the economic and emotional toll of working and parenting from home.

June 24, 2020: Wilton’s COVID cases increase by two to 209 after one week of no transmission.

July 24, 2020: The Wilton BOE and community grapple with how to reopen schools in the fall. Teachers worry that COVID-19 is not being taken seriously by residents as a recent uptick in Wilton cases is linked to young people and youth sports.

July 31, 2020: CIAC releases guidelines for fall sports.

August 4, 2020: WHS teacher Sarah Lewis advocates for remote learning in the early phase of scientific understanding of COVID-19. She says the BOE’s plan “is lacking in detail in both implementation and cost, and doesn’t address negative outcomes that we have already begun to see around the country.”

August 11, 2020: The BOE approves Superintendant Dr. Kevin Smith‘s recommendation to reopen all schools in a hybrid model.  The vote was unanimous even following a letter from 70 Wilton teachers asking the BOE to reconsider reopening with any kind of return to in-person learning.

August 24, 2020: A Photo of WHS senior girls’ gathering shortly before school is scheduled to reopen worries residents about the safety of returning to school the following week. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice responds, “This alleged reckless behavior jeopardizes these activities ever obtaining the necessary approvals to proceed as hoped.”

August 26, 2020: Wilton’s BOE approves a district-wide remote school start for August 31, with in-person instruction beginning on September 8. As rationale, the board cites recent events in which community members failed to follow COVID-related social distance and safety guidelines, teachers’ challenges with learning how to use the new technology, and delays in getting the district fully prepared and equipped with COVID mitigation supplies cause the start of in-person instruction to be pushed back.

September 8, 2020: Six months after leaving school buildings to learn remotely, Wilton students return to school buildings on the first day of in-person instruction.

September 14, 2020: COVID-19 cases rise slowly reaching 255 total for Wilton.

September 22, 2020: The BOE approves in-person classes four days a week at Miller-Driscoll and Cider Mill beginning in October.

September 25, 2020: The state releases Phase 3 reopening plans set to begin on Oct. 8. Phase 3 includes changes in capacity for indoor restaurants, personal services, hair salons, barbershops, and libraries, and outdoor event venues.

November 10, 2020: The state issues guidance for winter sports. 

November 16, 2020: Cider Mill transitions to remote learning for 14 days as COVID cases spike. At Cider Mill alone, 18 staff members and over 100 students are in quarantine.

December 3, 2020: Wilton small business owners reflect on pandemic-related economic challenges and plead for support: “I don’t think people in town truly know how bad it is”.

December 4, 2020: Registration opens for town-sponsored PCR COVID testing of Wilton residents.

December 8, 2020: COVID exposure and lack of enough on-site custodians force WHS to move to remote learning for one day.

December 14, 2020: Wilton residents spread socially distant holiday cheer with “Wilton Bright Lights” effort.

December 30, 2020: Approximately 250 Wilton Meadows employees and residents receive the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 

January 8, 2021: Gov. Ned Lamont confirms a new strain of coronavirus has been identified in CT.

January 11, 2021: State Senator Will Haskell calls for a CT COVID-19 memorial to honor 6,000 dead.

January 15, 2021: Wilton holds the town’s first vaccine clinic at the Wilton Fire Department. 

January 19, 2021: Wilton Health Director approves the high school’s winter sports plan. 

January 20, 2021: WHS moves to remote learning for two weeks after student parties cause a COVID-19 outbreak. An investigation reveals that approximately 20 students had been directly exposed to the virus at several parties and gatherings over the previous weekend.

January 25, 2021: A COVID-19 outbreak at School Sisters of Notre Dame closes the property to visitors. In one week, 30 residents and several members of the staff received positive test results. 

January 29, 2021: Wilton High School Principal Dr. Robert O’Donnell releases a video message, expressing his strongly-worded thoughts about the school’s closure in the wake of a recent COVID outbreak linked directly to student parties.

February 2, 2021: The CT Department of Public Health reports an unusually high, one-day jump of 22 new COVID-19 cases for Wilton, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 839. That number reflects a high test-positivity rate of 14.6%, well above the statewide level of 4.36%.

February 4, 2021: WHS Seniors put on “No Rain No Flowers,” a virtual musical comedy told from the perspective of 10 teens trying their best to survive not only high school but also a worldwide pandemic.

February 16, 2021: First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice discusses new guidance issued for schools by the CDC, including new indicators and thresholds for determining the risk of transmission within the community. The new indicators are suggested to replace the previous 14-day average daily per 100,000 indicators.

February 18, 2021: Wilton’s 7-day case rate dips below the red risk level for the first time in the last two months, and only the second time since Oct. 28.

February 22, 2021: Gov. Ned Lamont announces an age-based phased vaccination plan for the general public.

February 26, 2021: The BOE approves a plan for WHS students to return to in-person classes 6-out-of-10 days a week, filling the school to a 75% occupancy level, beginning March 8.

March 1, 2021: Gov. Ned Lamont considers lifting COVID restrictions, citing a low positivity rate of 2.6% over seven days, a four-month low average hospitalization rate, and lower trending fatality rates. People age 55-64 also become eligible to schedule an appointment and receive the vaccine.