Lingering effects of his own battle with COVID-19 have First Selectman Rudy Marconi still working from home as he sketches out a plan to make testing for the coronavirus available to all Ridgefielders.

“There will be no reason for anyone in Ridgefield not to be tested — other than they just don’t want it, and what can you do?” Marconi said. “I’m hoping that, a simple test like this, everyone would be proactive. Because the biggest issue with this disease is it is so highly contagious.

“And we can have people who are asymptomatic, who show absolutely no signs of illness, and can be spreading the disease,” he said.

“And we need to target everyone in our community, as such, to collect as much data as we can, to get as much information as we can to our residents so they themselves can take the proactive steps for protecting not only themselves and their family, but the rest of the community.”

Maconi spoke April 21, three weeks after he left an April 1 Board of Selectmen’s meeting not feeling quite right.

“I knew something was up when I came home and I haven’t been out of bed since then — out of the house — other than to go and be tested at Danbury Hospital,” he said.

“The first week it was a little bit of a roller coaster: You feel bad, you feel nauseous, you feel tired,” Marconi said. “And then the second week it really kicked in.

“Temperature reached maybe 101, at the worst, but it was a steady fever, with every symptom that you can think of, from the chills, aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, headache, cough, respiratory tightness — anything you can think of — a loss of taste, a loss of smell, unable to sleep, a sense of nausea that was horrible...

“Nights were sleepless, and one night in the bathroom I just laid on the floor, frustrated that I couldn’t open a small little child proof bottle of Zofran, which is an anti-nausea medication.

“It was an experience that you’ll never forget.”

Recovery

Marconi is in recovery now.

“It’s a slow process,” he said. “I can feel my voice weakening in a long conversation like I had with Barbara Manners yesterday. She said: ‘Your voice is being strained.’

“I still have a lingering cough and unsettled stomach, but the stomach seems to be, just today, taking a turn for the better.

“As long as I have those lingering symptoms I have to stay home,” he said.

Marconi said Tuesday that he’s now feeling “a thousand percent better” than he did at the depths of his battle with COVID-19.

“I think many people that, unfortunately, have gone through this will go through this, will experience the same thing: It makes you take a different outlook on life,” he said.

Sharing plasma

“I know I’m not 100 percent yet, because I don’t have the energy back. But the strength will come back, and I look forward to being able to, number one, thank God for seeing me through this, and number two, share my plasma with as many people as I can if it is considered a positive treatment.

“The three lingering symptoms were a slight cough, a sore throat and the unsettled stomach. So if my stomach is straightened out, which it seems to be, today, my sore throat is gone, the only thing left is the lingering cough. I hope that tomorrow or Thursday to be on the tail end of that. “From that point forward I would start counting the 14 days, and then go up to the hospital and donate the plasma, which they in turn use to treat patients.”

Researchers are actively experimenting with a therapy in which people who have recovered from COVID-19 donate blood plasma, which is then given to people of the same blood type who are sick with the disease. The hope is that virus-fighting antibodies in the blood from the recovered people can help the patients who are still sick battle the virus.

Another avenue of research envisions using tests for antibodies to determine a population of people who have battled off the virus — whether they felt very sick, or were asymptomatic carriers — who, it is thought, might be deemed to have immunity that makes it relatively safe for them to return to the work world.

This kind of research, it is hoped, may lead to a safe reopening of society to economic activity.

Testing in town

It is with approaches like this in mind that Marconi is working on a plan to enable widespread coronavirus testing of Ridgefield residents.

“I have been working on this since the end of last week,” he said, “to implement a townwide testing site where any resident of Ridgefield can go to a predetermined location and be tested.”

One of the issues is: What kind of test? There are a few different tests being used, and their effectiveness studied — along with any problems.

“We’re working with Danbury Hospital to see what test we might be able to use that provides the most information when we start,” Marconi said.

“That’ll be a review by the hospital of the tests that are available, and choosing the best test for Ridgefield,” Marconi said.

“We want to be sure that testing we do is yielding the best results we can get.”

Paying for tests

People with insurance would pay for tests, but those who can’t pay would still have testing available.

“What we’re hoping to be able to do is, your insurance company would cover the cost and, similar to the tests being done at Danbury Hospital, you present your insurance card and photo ID and they process the paperwork. We would hope to follow that same process,” Marconi said. “And for those who do not have insurance, we have the ability to cover the cost, so there’s no financial reasons for anyone not to be tested — and that’s the goal of this program.

“We have a philanthropist who’s willing to cover the cost of anyone who does not have insurance — it’s a tremendous benefit, and of that we’re thankful,” Marconi said.

Once the most appropriate test to use is determined, and some logistical issues are resolved, there are questions such as how often and how long the site would be open.

“Two of the towns in the south county are doing it twice a week, Monday and Friday, for four hours each day — which is not a lot,” Marconi said. “It depends on the response we get.”

The thought is that volunteers could help run the testing site, although there are also roles that would require people with some medical training.

Not all this has been worked out, and it’s something the town needs to get right if the program is going to be effective.

Nurses, paramedics

“We would like to have nurses. We employ nurses. Darien uses school nurses to do their testing — they do testing twice a week for their residents,” Marconi said.

“I know the RVNA is pretty stressed at this point, but there may be nurses available that would be willing to put in a couple of hours.

“Of course, it depends. To swab someone’s nose is less demanding in terms of certification and licensing, versus someone who’s going to draw blood,” he said.

Fire Department personnel might have a role.

“Our EMTs and our paramedics are trained to do intravenous work — they would have to be trained to draw blood,” Marconi said.

“So there’s a lot that’s being worked on right now in figuring this all out.”

Eventually a contractor would be selected to set up and run the testing program.

“If we were to say ‘Yes, let’s start today,’ we were told the company would be set up — as long as we, the town, provided a couple tents and the volunteers, the manpower — they could be up and running in two to three weeks,” Marconi said.

Tracing

One of the very real benefits of broad-based testing is to be able to identify people who may have the virus — be spreading it — and not be aware of that because they didn’t get symptoms severe enough to arouse concern.

“If people respond that they feel fine, they don’t have any symptoms, and the test comes back positive, then we will be setting up tracing,” Marconi said. “So that we can work with those individuals who feel fine, but test positive, to be sure that the people they have come in contact with do the 14 days (quarantine) and they themselves get tested.

“It’s a lot of work and we’re going to need a lot of volunteers,” Marconi said.

“But I think if we’re going to move forward and progress beyond the state of affairs in Ridgefield today, then the testing is what will allow us to collect the data to identify those who are — or who are not — contagious, and give us more information so that we can begin reopening our community.

“And the sooner we can get this going,” Marconi said, “the better off we’re going to be, from a health perspective and from an economic perspective.”