Coronavirus Outbreak Discovered At The Bridge After Tragic Coincidence

Crewmen at work at The Bridge golf club where most of the grouds crew contracted the coronavirus in May, though only a couple fell ill. Michael Wright

The exclusive golf club known as The Bridge saw an outbreak of coronavirus infections sweep through its grounds crew and kitchen staff last month — illustrating both the ease with which the coronavirus can spread in a close community and the ratio of serious health effects.

According to the club’s owner, Robert Rubin, 28 of 30 employees who live in a dormitory on the sprawling golf club property, and 36 employees in all, contracted the coronavirus, though most never exhibited any symptoms.

One of the grounds crew was hospitalized briefly with concerning symptoms of the COVID-19 disease — he has since recovered, Mr. Rubin said — and one kitchen staff member came down with mild symptoms, but recovered quickly. Nearly all of the others who tested positive exhibited no symptoms at all, despite regular temperature and blood oxygen checks.

After shutting down operations entirely for more than a week, all of the club’s employees have now tested negative for the coronavirus and have returned to work. The club has opened for the season, albeit at a greatly curtailed level of services to comply with state protocols and to protect what would normally be a full seasonal staff.

The club had been conducting daily temperature and blood oxygen level checks of all its staff since early in the epidemic, as the grounds crews prepared the course for the season. But the spread of the virus was only discovered by tragic happenstance: a “valued and beloved” kitchen employee, sous chef Mark Ledbetter, died suddenly in mid-May, according to the owner.

With the specter of the still largely unknown potential health effects of COVID-19 hanging over almost everything in the country at the time, the club’s managers worried that his death could have been a result of the disease.

It was not, it turned out, according to a coroner’s report days later. But in the meantime, the club had ordered testing of all its employees — and the extent to which the virus has spread was revealed.

“We went into high gear,” Mr. Rubin said. “We quarantined the dorm, shut down the common kitchen and had Cromers bring in 30 meals, twice a day. The two guys who tested negative, we moved them into the maintenance building … [which] wasn’t being used because we stopped maintaining the course during that period.”

The majority of those who fell ill lived in the dorm and were members of the grounds crew. Five other crewmen who do not live on the course property also contracted the virus, as did three kitchen workers, one of them the wife of a grounds crewman.

Longtime Superintendent Gregg Stanley said that the outbreak rattled everyone on the staff, but also brought everyone closer together for having weathered it while caring for one another in the green bubble of the hilltop property.

“We’re very proud of how our fellas have handled this challenging moment; and very grateful for all the support ownership has given us,” Mr. Stanley said. “I’ve said to Bob: as a group we’ve never been closer, having dealt with this. It was scary and difficult but we’re coming back better than before.”

Mr. Rubin said that having come out the other side without anyone suffering severe effects, the ordeal may have been a blessing, of sorts.

“We should have herd immunity now,” the owner said.

“What I take from it all is, this is very contagious and infectious, but a lot of people who get it don’t get sick or get mildly sick,” he added. “It leads me to believe that colleges are going to have a hell of a time in the fall.”