Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thank You Rich People For All Your Many Gifts


NYTimes | About 50 guests gathered on March 5 at a home in the stately suburb of Westport, Conn., to toast the hostess on her 40th birthday and greet old friends, including one visiting from South Africa. They shared reminiscences, a lavish buffet and, unknown to anyone, the coronavirus.
Then they scattered.

The Westport soirée — Party Zero in southwestern Connecticut and beyond — is a story of how, in the Gilded Age of money, social connectedness and air travel, a pandemic has spread at lightning speed. The partygoers — more than half of whom are now infected — left that evening for Johannesburg, New York City and other parts of Connecticut and the United States, all seeding infections on the way.

Westport, a town of 28,000 on the Long Island Sound, did not have a single known case of the coronavirus on the day of the party. It had 85 on Monday, up more than 40-fold in 11 days.

Worry, rumors and recriminations engulfed the town. Political leaders fielded hundreds of emails and phone calls from residents terrified that their children or vulnerable family members had been exposed. Who threw the party, and who attended? They wanted to know. Rumors flew that some residents were telling health officials they had attended the party so they could obtain a scarce test.

Officials refused to disclose the names of the hosts or any guests, citing federal and state privacy rules. Mr. Marpe posted a videotaped statement to the town website on March 20. “The fact of the matter is that this could have been any one of us, and rumor-mongering and vilification of individuals is not who we are as a civil community,” he said.

As the disease spread, many residents kept mum, worried about being ostracized by their neighbors and that their children would be kicked off coveted sports teams or miss school events.
One local woman compared going public with a Covid-19 diagnosis to “having an S.T.D.”
“I don’t think that’s a crazy comparison,” said Will Haskell, the state senator who represents Westport. He has been fielding frantic phone calls from constituents.

Most residents were exercising recommended vigilance, Mr. Haskell said, but one call that stuck out to him was from a woman awaiting test results whose entire family had been exposed to the virus. “She wanted to know whether or not to tell her friends and social network,” he said, because she was worried about “social stigma.”