CT clubs point to group trip as possible source of COVID-19 transmission
As local leaders warned of dropped vigilance leading to rises in COVID-19 cases, clubs and organizations in Darien, Stamford and Greenwich this week alerted their memberships to possible exposures to the virus.
Several of those notices mentioned a group trip taken by young people from Darien and possibly other towns last week as a potential source of transmission.
The first selectmen in Darien and Greenwich sent out calls warning of an increase in cases in the 10 to 19 age group. The statewide rate of new cases per day in that demographic had reached a low of about three at the the start of the month, but climbed back up to roughly 15 this week, according to numbers compiled by the governor’s office.
Darien has seen a mini-spike in COVID-19 cases this week, with nine new cases reported as of Friday, according to Department of Health Director David Knauf. Seven of those cases are in people between the ages of 10 and 19.
In Greenwich, First Selectman Fred Camillo said cases were up earlier this week by 13 from the previous week.
Both The Tokeneke Club and the Country Club of Darien alerted members that visitors or counselors had tested positive for the coronavirus. Both clubs also referred to a group trip. Tokeneke said two visitors to the club who tested positive had been on the trip. The Country Cub of Darien said a positive-testing camp counselor had a connection to someone on the trip. The young people testing positive in those cases were all asymptomatic, the clubs said.
“Over the last week a large group of positive cases among young people — teenagers and twenty-somethings — has been reported in our community, as a result of an out-of-town gathering which took place from July 12th-15th,” said the Tokeneke warning.
There has been no indication that the trip was a sponsored activity by any club.
On Wednesday, Woodway Country Club in Darien sent an email to its members saying a lifeguard had a possible exposure to the group from the trip. On Friday, general manager Stephen McVey said the lifeguard and his family had all tested negative.
Clubs said they alerted the Darien Health Department and followed health department protocols to protect members and employees.
“The above referenced private clubs closely monitor directives and communications from state and local leaders with regard to COVID-19 protocols. We regularly communicate these protocols and any related relevant news to our members and employees as part of our ongoing effort to comply with these directives in order to create a safe environment for our members, guests and staff,” said a joint statement released by the Country Club of Darien, Woodway Country Club, Wee Burn Country Club and The Tokeneke Club on Friday.
Another club possibly affected by the group trip was the Stamford Yacht Club. General Manager Erica Tanon said in an interview that one of the club’s lifeguards, who has tested positive, is a Darien resident and was part of the group trip referred to by other clubs.
“Thankfully, we had over 46 of our summer team test negative, including myself,” she said.
The lifeguard was last at the camp on July 18. The club closed its pool the next day, a Sunday, upon receiving the news of the positive test, and kept it closed the next day for cleaning.
One club mentioned that members of the trip attended other gatherings of young people.
In Greenwich, The Milbrook Club sent a message to its members Thursday, saying several Greenwich teens went to a party “this past week” attended by a member of the trip who tested positive.
Several who went to that event then attended another indoor party, including counselors from the club’s camp, the message said. Initial tests of the counselors came back negative, but two later began showing symptoms of the coronavirus and they are being retested, the club’s statement said.
As a precaution, the club said it closed its camp on Thursday and Friday for cleaning and sanitization, and to allow all staff to be tested.
Scott Kloster, general manager of the Milbrook Club, said the club’s camp will also be closed next week. He said the events are unfortunate because clubs in the area have been focused on sanitizing and following protocols.
Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich also sent a notice to its members, saying a member of the pool staff had tested positive for the coronavirus. That person had not been at the club since Sunday and had only been in the pool area, the club said. But the pool, camp and snack bar were all closed Thursday and Friday to allow for full contact tracing to take place. Staff were evaluating when the club’s camp might reopen.
It was unclear whether the employee might have had contact with the trip group.
“It’s unfortunate, we have a ton of protocols in place, but we can’t control what employees do outside of work,” Burning Tree General Manager Harris Coble said in an interview. “We do employ young people for our camp. Once we were made aware that we had a member of our personnel test positive, we decided to shut some things down, contacted the Health Department and removed the appropriate people from our facilities.”
It was also unclear whether a camp counselor from The Darien YMCA, who self-reported a positive test Sunday, had contact with the trip group. But the Y notified camp families about the test result. YMCA Communication Director Patricia Kane in an interview said the counselor “was out of town the last week prior to returning to camp on Friday.”
As a result, the Y had the children in that counselor’s group remain at home for 14 days, along with the campers’ siblings.
As of July 1, the total number of recorded cases in the 10-19 age range in the state since mid-March was 1,369. As of July 22, the number of cases in the age group was 1,563.
In Darien, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson would not confirm that the teenagers who tested positive had traveled together, citing privacy laws that she said prevent the town from providing specific information about individuals who test positive.
But in a “Code Red” email blast, she warned that young people should not relax precautions that have helped the state reduce transmission of the virus.
“Here in Connecticut, we are seeing a change in the demographic of positive cases as younger people, teenagers and twenty-somethings, are now testing positive in larger numbers than in the past. Gathering and vacationing with friend groups is problematic,” she said in the email.
“Everyone needs to do their part to prevent the resurgence of COVID in our community. We must not let our guard down as we continue our attempt to reopen Connecticut or it is very likely that the progress we’ve made will be reversed.”
Greenwich’s first selectman said he did not have an age breakdown for the new cases in his town this week. But Camillo echoed Stevenson’s comments that it was not time for residents to let their guard down.
“No matter how well a town is doing with protocol enforcement and adherence to social distancing, people can go to a party hundreds of miles away and come back and contact with other people, and the virus is going to spread,” Camillo said.
That is why local governments are doubling down on their pleas, he said, making public announcements about wearing masks and practicing social distancing, and stepping up contract tracing.
“Even though the origins of this are beyond our town borders, it is now a town issue,” Camillo said. “It serves as a reminder that we’ve done a really good job, but we’re not there yet. And there’s no guarantee that’s going to continue if people let their guard down, get complacent, and in some cases, irresponsible and disrespectful.”
Knauf, Darien’s director of health, warned against “pointing fingers” at one group or one incident.
This week’s new cases could just as easily have come from a graduation party or any other gathering common to summer in which people relax precautions, he said.
“We might learn something from this. No age group is immune. They can all get sick from it or carry it back to a more susceptible community or family member that could result in serious illness or even death,” Knauf said.
“It’s the behavior in general. People who refuse to wear masks because they think their personal rights are being infringed upon — they are infringing on the rights of the people who want to be healthy.”