(CNN) — About 40 people who attended a farewell party in Connecticut in early March were exposed to COVID-19 after a partygoer was confirmed to have the virus, three local Connecticut officials confirmed to CNN.
The town of Westport now has 79 cases, the most of any Connecticut municipality, according to local officials. In Fairfield County, the surrounding county, there are 384 confirmed cases, more than half of Connecticut’s total number of cases.
The party serves as a stark example how quickly coronavirus spreads in crowded areas, and the role asymptomatic people can play in disseminating the disease. It also foreshadowed the warnings of public health officials that came in the following days.
“To some extent, Westport is a cautionary tale, or a harbinger of what’s to come,” Connecticut State Senator Will Haskell said. “I hope the 168 other towns in Connecticut see what happens in Westport and act accordingly.”
The party was in honor of a man about to return to South Africa, where he is from. After arriving home, the man tested positive for Covid-19 and alerted partygoers. A week after the March 5 event, about 20 attendees reported flu-like symptoms, local health director Mark Cooper told CNN.
Yale New Haven Health System’s Covid-19 call center received about a hundred calls from those who attended the party or who had been in contact with those who had, according to chief quality officer Dr. Steven Choi.
Health officials could not confirm how many party attendees have since tested positive for coronavirus.
Gatherings like the one in Westport can create high-exposure environments where coronavirus can infect multiple people, according to Choi.
“That infected person could very easily infect everyone at the party, especially if most of the party occurred in one or two rooms in the house, where people are touching silverware, cups, utensils, door knobs,” Choi said.
The fact that partygoers did not know they had been exposed for multiple days allowed for unknowing transmission, according to Choi.
Choi, who lives in Westport, cautioned against possible blame of those who attended the party and may have become infected.
“There was no social irresponsibility with the party,” Choi said. “It could have been any party.”
Now, Westport is grappling with the reality that it has the highest number of cases in Connecticut. Yale New Haven Health System and Yale School of Medicine are currently treating about 80 patients with Covid-19, Choi said.
The spread is now “past the point of contact tracing,” Haskell told CNN. “The most productive thing people could do right now is not point fingers, but stay at home as much as possible.”
State, local and health officials echo the same message: stay home and avoid gatherings.
“This battle will be won or lost outside the hospitals,” Choi said. “It is certainly the first time in my career where public health measures are so critical to the welfare of the community.”