Ridgefield’s first death from COVID-19 has been announced.

“It’s with a heavy heart and condolences to the family,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said in a livestream to the town late Wednesday afternoon. “We did lose our first patient who contracted coronavirus.

The patient who died in Danbury Hospital was reportedly an 88-year-old resident of an assisted living facility in Ridgefield, Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossings.

Steps being taken to limit the spread of the virus were outlined in statement issued Wednesday evening by the Benchmark facility, on Route 7 just north of the intersection of Route 35.

“Benchmark Senior Living at Ridgefield Crossings is extremely saddened to confirm the tragic passing of a valued member of our community, one of our residents,” a statement said. “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his family during this difficult time, and we are deeply committed to helping our residents and associates heal from this loss.

“On March 16, 2020, this individual was admitted to Danbury Hospital and was confirmed positive for the new coronavirus (COVID-19). Upon receiving this news, we immediately contacted state and local health authorities.

“We quickly enacted our COVID-19 outbreak plan, which includes promptly quarantining the residents who had high exposure to this individual. We are following health department and medical guidance to address the associates who had exposure to this resident by having them stay out of the community.

“We continue to closely monitor all residents and associates, taking resident’s temperatures daily and restricting non-essential visitors to reduce the potential spread of the virus. All residents are receiving in-room meals. Programming has been discontinued for all, except our memory care residents, until further notice.

“Our home office and regional teams, as well as our local community leaders, are working in tandem with the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to take the precautions necessary to protect the health and safety of all of our residents and associates.

“Every resident, family member and associate is an important part of the Ridgefield Crossings family. This is a difficult time for all of us, and everyone is working hard to support one another.

“We will continue to assess and adjust our protocols under the direction of state and local health authorities and will keep everyone updated on this situation.”

First Selectman Marconi said the elderly man’s passing should be a warning.

“It’s a sad sad thing,” Marconi said. “This serious, we’re not here to ask you to do what your doing for no reason. We have lost a person in Ridgefield as a direct result of coronavirus. That needs to be a warning to all of us. It comes at the expense of this man’s life, and sorry, so sorry for that.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont held an afternoon conference in Hartford on the loss, the state’s first due to coronavirus.

“It is with sadness today that we are confirming the first death of a person in Connecticut due to severe complications from COVID-19,” he said. “The patient, a man in his 80s, had recently been admitted to Danbury Hospital, where he was receiving treatment. He had been a resident of an assisted living facility in Ridgefield. I want to thank all of the doctors, nurses, and medical professionals at the hospital who did everything in their power to save his life. I also want to acknowledge the dedicated professionals from hospitals and medical centers throughout our state who continue to work on the front lines and treat patients, in addition to all of the support staff who are providing critical assistance through this trying time.

“We know that people of an advanced age and in certain conditions are among the most at risk of this disease,” Lamont said, “however I urge everyone in Connecticut - regardless of age or condition - to take an active role in doing their part to reduce the spread of this virus throughout our communities so we can protect one another.”

“My thoughts go out to the family during this difficult time. This tragic death demonstrates the critical need for more robust federal action to fight this insidious deadly epidemic. Swift, strong federal action —a true medical surge —must include more tests, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other vital supplies. We are crafting an additional package, after the one we passed today, providing massive resources. I will continue work with Governor Lamont as well as state and local health officials to ensure Connecticut is taking appropriate steps to combat this epidemic. I urge residents to continue to follow the recommendations of CDC to keep yourselves, your friends and families safe.”

Marconi said on Tuesday that town officials were watching several people with symptoms and expecting more cases of the coronavirus to come, but no one had tested positive.

“We have no other positive tests,” Marconi said.

How many Ridgefielders have been tested?

“About 137 tests were done by Danbury Hospital,” said Health Director Ed Briggs.

In the wake of the announced death, Marconi urged people to be serious about practicing social distancing.

“It’s the only tool we have in our tool box to fight this,” he said.

The death prompted U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal to call for a “medical surge” to help combat the coronavirus.

“My thoughts go out to the family during this difficult time,” he said. “This tragic death demonstrates the critical need for more robust federal action to fight this insidious deadly epidemic. Swift, strong federal action —a true medical surge —must include more tests, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and other vital supplies.

“We are crafting an additional package, after the one we passed today, providing massive resources. I will continue work with Governor Lamont as well as state and local health officials to ensure Connecticut is taking appropriate steps to combat this epidemic. I urge residents to continue to follow the recommendations of CDC to keep yourselves, your friends and families safe.”

Marconi, Health Director Ed Briggs and Emergency Director Dick Aarons conducted on a streamcast on the town website today March 18, at 4 p.m., which was simultaneously broadcast on local cable TV public access channels.

Town officials have said they expected increasing numbers of residents confirmed to have the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“We are monitoring several people who have been exposed to some people in New Rochelle,” Health Director Ed Briggs said.

Ridgefield schools closed Friday. The governor closed restaurants to sit-down service Tuesday, although he allowed the continuation of take-out and delivery food operations.

All hair salons and nail salons in Ridgefield were ordered to close by the end of Wednesday — a decision by Health Director Briggs and First Selectman Marconi under authority of the local emergency declared by Marconi on Friday..

Health officials are investigating anyone who may have had contact with the patient who died of COVID-19, Marconi said.

The virus is expected to peak in the next 45 days, Marconi said, after which cases may begin tapering off. He warned that process could take an additional 45 days, meaning the virus could affect the state into the summer months.

Others authorities on the national scene are concerned the virus could be around — taking lives, keeping people home sick, or in fear of illness, putting the economy on pause — for a longer time.

Marconi and Briggs were joined by several other public officials — Police Chief Jeff Kreitz, Fire Chief Jerry Myers and Emergency Director Dick Aarons — in a public information session that was broadcast Monday night.

The main points of their message have been consistent form late last week.

“If you are sick, don’t just show up at a doctor’s office or emergency room,” Briggs said.

“The most important protocol we hear over and over is,” Marconi said, “if you’re feeling symptoms, don’t automatically go to the hospital … Call your doctor.

“The hospital cannot commence a testing protocol unless they get an appropriate script from your doctor.”

Testing

Danbury Hospital is now doing tests for coronavirus on patients with doctor’s prescriptions.

“Testing did begin, and what we expect to see is the number to go upward as we are doing more and more tests. Today, they expect to do about 3,000 tests at Danbury Hospital,” Briggs said Monday.

The hospital instituted what Briggs described as a “very thorough” screening process.

“What you need to do is get a doctor’s script stating you meet the criteria for testing,” Briggs said. “...People at the other end will be taking swabs and sending them to the labs.

“As we get more and more test kits available, they’ll be available at places like CVS, local Walmart and Targets — for those you won’t need a physician’s script to get it.”

Marconi had simple advice for people worried they may have COVID-19.

“If you are ill, please contact your primary care provider,” Marconi said.

“If you have symptoms, the first step is to contact your primary care provider and follow recommendations. Any test being requested must have a prescription from your doctor.

“Danbury Hospital has opened a mobile testing site with specific protocol for testing. Please call the Danbury Hospital: 888-667-9262,” Marconi said.

Groceries

Stop & Shop in Copps Hill Plaza, Ridgefield’s supermarket and the principal source of groceries for many in town, adjusted its hours of operation early this week, and Thursday it added special early morning hours for senior citizens.

For the general public, Stop & Shop’s hours are 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. — a reduction to former hours that is designed to allow more time for workers to unload deliveries, stock shelves, and keep the store running smoothly.

But starting on Thursday, March 19, Stop & Shop planned to offer special hours to accommodate customers 60 and older. From 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., the store said it would be open only for customers over the age of 60, whom the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have identified as most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The program is designed to allow older people to shop in a less crowded environment, which better enables social distancing.

Stop & Shop will not be requesting ID for entry, but the store requests that all shoppers respect the purpose of the early opening and allow the time before 7:30 a.m. to be for seniors to shop without exposure.

“Stop & Shop will reserve the right to ask customers to leave if they are not a member of this age group,” a release from the company said.

Town officials have been urging people to shop reasonably, rather than give in to the temptation to overbuy and hoard.

“You don’t need to think in terms of months,” said Emergency Director Aarons. “The stores, you can bet, are doing everything they can to widen their pipelines, increase their flow from warehouses.”

The goal for townspeople is “to be as close to normal as we can,” Aarons said.

Reaching out

He suggested that people, who can, phone in with elderly friends and neighbors.

“We had several cases where folks in their 70s and 80s are afraid to go out shopping,” he said. “If you’ve got a grandma or friend or neighbor, you might reach out to them, see if they’re OK. Give them a phone call, see if there’s something you can do, picking up something at the drug store or food store.”

The town Stop & Shop has a steady stream of deliveries, the first selectman said. “The chain of supply will only be stressed if hoarding continues to take place,” Marconi said.

Marconi added that Ridgefield’s Meals on Wheels organization and also the Neighbor to Neighbor program set up by the Compassionate Ridgefield group were working to assist people in need.

“Meals on Wheels delivers about 20,000 meals a year in our community, helping seniors and those with special needs who are housebound and difficult with movement,” Marconi said. “They’re pushed to the limit but they’re going to do a little bit extra, go the extra yard.”

Meals on Wheels phone number is 203-438-8788.

Marconi was struck by the extraordinary ways life is being changed — at least for a time.

“When you think about it, I don’t ever remember this type of action ever being taken for any reason in my lifetime,” he said.

“It's a serious issue and we need to pay attention.

“And we also have to realize that we’re in this together, and we need to work our way through it together,” he said. “And that means respecting others, and the actions that are being taken — and that it’s for a reason and that is for the well-being of everyone.”

Marconi call

The first selectman also spoke to townspeople in a telephone call received at homes across Ridgefield a little before 8 Tuesday night.

“First, I want to thank all Ridgefielders for your continued efforts to comply with the requests of health experts to maintain social distancing and avoid crowds,” Marconi said.

“Currently, Fairfield County has 48 of the 68 state cases that tested positive. Of those, one is from Ridgefield,” Marconi said.

The number of cases in Connecticut had grown to 96 by Wednesday afternoon.

“If we work together we will all get through this emergency,” Marconi said.

He offered a series of “updates” on what has seemed an ever-changing situation:

“Our Emergency Operations Center is fully activated. Visit ridgefieldoem on Facebook.

“Governor Lamont has ordered all restaurants, and bars closed for table service. You can still support your local businesses by taking advantage of restaurant take out programs and other initiatives created by your favorite town shops.

“Please give them a call,” Marconi said, “they need your support.”

Among the suggestions people have made in this regard is to buy gift certificates or gift cards — helping the businesses now, even if enjoying them later.

Marconi also addressed the need for social contact — even if it is not in person.

“Reach out by telephone to your neighbors, especially the elderly and those at greater risk to see if you can help.”

“Ridgefield’s ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’ project will help those who may need a friendly ear or someone to pick up groceries. Please call 203-431-7000.

“For information on the food pantry, please call Social Services at 203-431-2777.”

On Tuesday night Marconi said, “Daycare centers will remain open” — although announcements earlier in the week he’d acknowledged that many “nursery schools” were closed.

Avoid playdates

In his ongoing series of updates on the crisis, Marconi asked residents to avoid playdates and large gatherings that could risk spreading the disease.

With the public schools closed — last Thursday was the last day of classes — Marconi urged parents to resist the inevitable pressure from kids to get together with other kids.

“There are a lot of families now where the kids are at home and they are doing playdates, having a couple of kids, maybe more, or less, coming over to play with their kids. This is something that needs to be checked. People need to be aware where the other kids have been — check with your neighbor, your brother, your sister,” Marconi said.

He paraphrased what was a plea posted on Facebook by an emergency room doctor from Wilton — adding that town Health Director Briggs supported the firm advice:

“Please do not arrange playdates. No pandemic parties. No sleepovers. This defeats the purpose of closing the schools. You can be shedding the virus without any symptoms. That means that your child, your friend’s child, your sisters’ kids, can look fine but still be contagious. Cancel the birthday party, Postpone the trip. Let your kids be bored.”

Marconi added that sensible precautions apply to all age groups.

“Be aware who you’re inviting into your home,” he said. “Many of us can be asymptomatic, showing no sign of illness. That’s the most concerning part.”

Parents should also consider their childcare arrangements.

“Unfortunately, many daycare facilities are being closed,” Marconi said late last week, although this is not by order of either Gov. Lamont or the Town of Ridgefield.

The official position is that “daycare centers will remain open,” Marconi said Tuesday.

“What we don't want to have happen is to call grandma or grandpa, who are more susceptible. It’s a very difficult time right now, and we have to work together on this.”

He also said Tuesday that “there is no curfew in the state of Connecticut.” There are places as nearby as some New Jersey communities that have imposed curfews in the last week.

Town services

“Although all town buildings are closed to visitors, staff is available in all departments to help you find the information and services you need,” Marconi said Tuesday. “Call 431-2700 or visit Ridgefieldct.org.”

Many applications and forms for permits and licenses are available on the town website at www.ridgefieldct.org.

On Tuesday, the governor said there are now 68 confirmed cases of coronavirus throughout Connecticut.

Marconi also asked Ridgefielders to look out for one another.

“Please reach out by telephone to your neighbors,” Marconi said, “especially the elderly.”