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COVID 19 Outbreak Hits Home

Union Elementary School. Photo by Carla Occaso
The Montpelier-Roxbury school district has decided to shift Union Elementary School to remote learning for the next week. This decision was reached after the school reported seven positive COVID-19 cases among its members. The Department of Health stated that at least some of the cases are related to the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center outbreak, which now totals 43 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, October 23.

The decision to switch to temporary virtual instruction was made “to give families and staff a chance to take a breath,” wrote superintendent Libby Bonesteel in a letter to the school community Thursday. The district expects to resume in-person classes at UES on November 2, although officials will continue to reassess the situation throughout the week as the Department of Health tracks the outbreak.

Although sudden, the elementary school is prepared for such changes. “We have been planning for a situation such as this since the beginning of the year,” Bonesteel told The Bridge. “We have distance learning plans that the staff has collaboratively created.”

Contact tracers will be assessing each case under the updated national guidelines about who is considered to be a close contact. This means that anyone who has been within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative time of 15 minutes over the course of 24 hours is deemed a close contact. 

During the governor’s COVID-19 news conference on Friday, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said he believes that K–12 schools will be a “renewed focus” across the country in terms of contact tracing, since teachers and students may often have intermittent contact with each other. 

Bonesteel also said that the safety protocols at Union Elementary will most likely remain as they were before the switch to remote learning. “We have, of course, reexamined all our processes and systems. The Department of Health has commended us on multiple occasions regarding what we have in place. We are always looking to improve upon what we do. However, the safety protocols, for the most part, are not changing.” That said, she wants to remind others to wear a mask, wash their hands, and stay six feet apart.

It is unclear whether any of the school’s infected members were directly involved in the Civic Center-related events. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the spread likely occurred off the ice, while carpooling or during related social gatherings, and that at least half of the cases are indirectly linked to the rink. During the news conference on Friday, he called the outbreak an “important example of how the COVID-19 virus will find its way into our communities.”

Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center
The Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center on Gallison Hill Road. Photo by Tom Brown
According to the Health Department, the outbreak now involves two colleges with six cases, seven schools with 12 cases, seven workplaces with 12 cases, and two hospitals with two cases. There are also around 240 close contacts involved. 

Levine warned the public of falling into pandemic fatigue. “The virus itself does not tire. Down-stream aspects are when initial exposures spread…to people at home, who then go, often asymptomatic, to school, college, work, or to visit friends, family, or neighbors. We all live in communities, and the places we spend time in then reflect the amount of virus we see in our communities.”

The school district will be hosting a pop-up testing site at Montpelier High School from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, October 28. Three hundred tests will be available, with 200 reserved for people who register and 100 for walk-ins. The Department of Health and the National Guard will be conducting the tests. There will also be a pop-up testing site at the Barre City Auditorium on Thursday, October 29.