Danbury clamps down on COVID

Janelle Berry, left, and Aileen Morales perform a COVID-19 test at Broadview Middle School on Monday, Aug. 24. The City of Danbury and the Community Health Center, Inc, sponsored free testing in the school’s parking lot.

Janelle Berry, left, and Aileen Morales perform a COVID-19 test at Broadview Middle School on Monday, Aug. 24. The City of Danbury and the Community Health Center, Inc, sponsored free testing in the school’s parking lot.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

DANBURY — Liz Ceppos says she doesn’t have symptoms of the coronavirus.

But she, her husband and two kids waited in line in their cars Monday morning to get tested for the virus anyway.

They wanted to be safe amid a spike of new cases in Danbury and the kids originally set to go back into the classroom in a couple weeks.

“We thought it wouldn’t hurt to get tested,” Ceppos said.

The family was among hundreds expected to be tested at Danbury’s Broadview Middle School on Monday. The Community Health Center added this testing site and others this week due to the increase in cases in the city, which led the state to issue a COVID-19 alert in Danbury on Friday.

Ridgefield Health Director Ed Briggs said Saturday that Ridgefield had not had a similar to spike in Danbury the announced by the state.

“Ridgefield has had no spikes in cases in quite some time,” Briggs said. “Danbury has a much more diverse population and a number of variables causing the spike.”

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi issued a letter town residents Monday, urging continued vigilance about COVID-19 health practices.

“Wearing face masks and practicing social distancing is working,” Marconi said. “In the past seven days, recorded daily new cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut have been declining. This was good news. However, this should not mean you should stop adhering to protocols. The virus is still around. There has been an increase in new cases recorded in Danbury over the weekend, and it is a concern.”

Amy Taylor, western region vice president of Community Health Center, said the Broadview testing site in Danbury had been added to handle any increase if demand for COVID-19 tests.

“We wanted to make sure there was ample testing,” said Taylor. “Anyone that wanted to could get tested.”

There have been 240 new positive tests in Danbury the past two weeks, including 15 new cases on Monday, Mayor Mark Boughton said. Throughout July, the city reported one or no new cases on many days.

“This isn’t Armagdon, but on the other hand, it’s not good,” Boughton said.

Dr. Martha DesBiens, an infectious disease specialist who practices out of Nuvance Health’s Danbury Hospital, said the uptick came after a summer of succesfully keeping transmission in check.

“It appears the increase in numbers the first couple weeks in August related to both national and international travel, along with spread through local social gatherings,” DesBiens said. “In general, our communities have maintained diligent adherence to safety guidelines. However, the increase in cases in early August may indicate relaxation of distancing measures among certain groups of individuals.”

Danbury schools announced Monday afternoon that they would start the year on distance learning, rather than the hybrid model, due to the spike.

Western Connecticut State University and the Danbury campus of Naugatuck Valley Community College will also start classes online, with WestConn students not allowed to return to residence halls for at least two weeks.

Danbury canceled youth sports and closed its boat ramp due to the spread, which has been linked to largely to national and international travel, in addition to sports and church gatherings, Boughton said.

Across the state

The positive test rate in Danbury is about 7 percent, compared to less than 1 percent statewide, Gov. Ned Lamont said.

“It does worry us that that number has gone up quite a bit,” Lamont said in his daily news conference.

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said Danbury’s surge should serve as a reminder for everyone to continue following safety guidelines.

“What we are seeing in Danbury should remind us all how quickly things can change, and how very serious this virus is,” Rilling said. “All it takes is one surge, one outbreak, one spike, to cause a change in course to protect the public’s health.”

Dr. Michael Parry, chairman of infectious disease at Stamford Health, said cases generally rise due to travel or parties without social distancing or masks.

“People have felt that Connecticut is in a good place and maybe they don’t need to be so rigid on wearing a mask and social distancing,” he said.

But in Stamford, the positivity rate is 0.4 percent, he said.

Middletown is in “good shape,” said Marco Gaylord, the district’s director of operations, who is in constant contact with the city health department to determine whether coronavirus cases are on the rise in the area.

If the situation changes, “we’ll adjust and pivot if needed,” Gaylord said. The district is on track to open schools Sept. 3.

The Community Health Center tests between 800 to 1,000 people daily at its nine permanent sites and other mobile sites across the state, Taylor said.

More people have been getting tested at the permanent Danbury location, with the center going from 30 to 40 patients per day to 80 to 100 per day recently, Taylor said.

This increase is largely due to more businesses opening and requiring employees to be tested, in addition to students and teachers preparing to go back to school, she said. Colleges like Western Connecticut State University asked students to get tested before coming to campus.

Other spikes are possible as students return to school, especially colleges, Parry said.

“As people get together and they’re in a new social setting, they’re going to be socially active and feel invincible because they are fit and happy,” he said. “There may be spikes in multiple areas around the country.”

Preventing the spread

Lamont emphasized the importance of raising awareness in people’s native languages due to the spike’s connection to international travel.

“A lot of that is perhaps related to populations that come in from out of the country, maybe visiting folks at home,” he said. “So we have to be able address each and every one of these special populations, tell them the importance of quarantining and the importance of testing ”

This includes a video message from Dr. Albert Ko, department chair and professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, who spoke in Portuguese about the outbreak for the Tribuna Newspaper.

The spike is not exclusively linked to the Brazilian community, however, said Josh Geballe, commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services.

“We want to make sure that we’re reaching out through any channel we possibly can, trying to reach everyone in the community to make sure the word is getting out adequately

If cases continue to rise, the city may need to get permission from the state to roll back parts of the phase two reopening, Boughton said, “but right now we’re not planning to do that.”

The mayor urged residents to limit activities over the weekend, a request most abided by, he said.

“There’s always people that just refuse to follow even a request, but in general people were very good and certainly taking it seriously,” Boughton said.

He said residents will be OK if they wash their hands, wear masks and avoid large groups.

Testing critical

About 12 staff with the health center were at Broadview to register and test residents, Taylor said. Results are available within two to three days.

The free testing is open to all, regardless of whether they have symptoms. The center does not ask for identification or proof of documentation.

“The most important thing is to get people tested,” Taylor said.

The health center will also conduct testing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Rogers Park Middle School and noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Mount Pleasant AME Zion Church. This is in addition to the permanent site at Delay Street, which is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and various other sites throughout the city.

While some people said they have symptoms of the virus, many do not, Taylor said.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who are just coming out and doing the right thing getting tested,” she said.

DesBiens, with Danbury Hospital, agreed.

“We have noticed throughout this pandemic, that a small number of people generally account for a large number of cases,” she said. “In addition, people may be highly contagious without knowing it. One of the most valuable ways of preventing further spread beyond this local outbreak is more widespread testing. Early identification of positive cases allows for appropriate isolation, which can limit forward spread.”