How could a harmless dinner party become a hotbed of disease and send the coronavirus swirling around the world?
That is the nature of this invisible, nearly undetectable beast. By the time you know you have contracted the coronavirus, you have likely already shared it with tens or sometimes even hundreds of people. One person, showing no symptoms, can unknowingly infect many.
That is what happened on March 5 in Westport, Conn, at a private event on the Long Island Sound.
Approximately 50 guests gathered to reconnect, reminisce and celebrate a friend's 40th birthday in an affluent neighborhood. When the gathering was over, guests departed this "Party Zero" and scattered throughout Connecticut, New York City, and even as far away as South Africa. Within the next days and weeks, more than half of them would discover they had coronavirus and come down with COVID-19.
(via The New York Times): The visitor from Johannesburg — a 43-year-old businessman, according to a report from South Africa — fell ill on his flight home, spreading the virus not only in the country but possibly to fellow passengers. The party guests attended other gatherings. They went to work at jobs throughout the New York metropolitan area. Their children went to school and day care, soccer games and after-school sports.
Even worse, though, members of the group interacted with so many people in the days after Party Zero that health officials could not track down everyone potentially affected. In the span of one week, Westport found itself in the throes of a full epidemic.
At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said that 415 people in the state were infected, up from 327 on Sunday night. Ten people have died. Westport, with less than 1 percent of the state’s population, now makes up more than one-fifth of its COVID-19 infections, with 85 cases. Fairfield County, where Westport is, has 270 cases, 65 percent of the state’s total.
As news of the coronavirus pandemic spread and the U.S. death toll began to climb, Westport's citizens began to panic. Driven by fear, they began speculating about who had attended that party and stigmatizing those infected with the disease. Officials shut down schools and put social distancing practices in place, but some were afraid to disclose their coronavirus "status" for fear of affecting their social status. According to the Times, "One local woman compared going public with a COVID-19 diagnosis to 'having an S.T.D.'”
So what does this tale tell us?
While mainstream news reports often focus on large cities and huge populations, coronavirus does not discriminate about where it lands. In Italy, where many of the early cases were associated with small towns before coronavirus made its way to Milan Fashion Week, throughout Europe and beyond. No one knows for sure who was the source at Party Zero, but the gathering quickly became a launching pad that eventually infected thousands of people.
There is no "safe place" or "safe group" when it comes to coronavirus at this point. The only "safe" course of action is to follow the science, listen to health officials, and stick to best practices. No one is immune.