Rutland's Holiday Inn Warned For Hosting Too Many Campers
Officials in Rutland are concerned that hundreds of teenagers who bussed into Vermont from out of state for a summer camp are breaking the state's pandemic rules by overcrowding a local hotel.
Rutland Town officials say they were notified last Sunday night that busses were unloading lots of people at the local Holiday Inn.
Town Health Officer John Paul Faignent says he went to the hotel to investigate and saw more than 350 mostly high-school-aged girls get off multiple buses.
“None of whom were practicing any of the mandated practices of social distancing or wearing face masks," Faignent said.
The teens are part of a Jewish youth group from the New Jersey area and planned to stay at the Rutland hotel for six weeks.
Rutland Town Select Board Chairman Joshua Terenzini says local officials had not been made aware of the plans ahead of time and were upset the hotel was breaking pandemic rules to host the campers.
“We thought it was some creativity on the Holiday Inn’s part to get around some of the governor’s re-occupancy guidelines,” Terenzini said. "They were trying to claim that the Holiday Inn was being converted to a campground, which we know is certainly not the case."
"And quite frankly, to have 400 people, mostly youth, not social distancing in one facility for three weeks, also poses health dangers if one or two people have it." ?— Joshua Terenzini, Rutland Town Select Board
Terenzini said the Holiday Inn’s capacity is 600 guests, so their allowed maximum is 300 people.
“And quite frankly, to have 400 people, mostly youth, not social distancing in one facility for three weeks, also poses health dangers if one or two people have it," he said. "Gosh, the spread could be really dangerous down there.“
Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says he’s been working with Moshe Perlstein, the camp’s director, to relocate 50 to 100 of the teens. He said the group has until Friday to do that.
Perlstein says all the children taking part were tested for COVID-19 three days before getting on the buses, and that he had to turn away several kids who did not turn in their test documents on time. And he said the group planned to quarantine in place.
Perlstein added he’s been working with state and local authorities to find a solution, and wants to keep the campers and the Rutland community safe.
“And if it means taking the children home, we’ll take them home," he said. "It’s not an easy thing to do, but if that’s the right thing to do, then it becomes easy again.“
Initially, Commissioner Schirling said state officials had hoped the extra campers could be sent to a second camp that Perlstein’s group is operating on the campus of Southern Vermont College in Bennington.
But Schirling says because the two camps offer different programs and have been under separate quarantines, it didn’t make sense to commingle the groups.
He says the 350 young people attending the Bennington camp are not overcrowding the campus’s 1,000 bed capacity.
"There’s been no information coming out of Bennington to indicate that they are not in compliance with the health and safety guidance," Schirling said.
"The posture for noncompliance with any of the executive order components at this point is education first." ?— Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling
Holiday Inn personnel in Rutland did not respond to multiple calls for comment.
Schirling says so far, the state is not pursing any charges against the hotel.
"No, again, the posture for noncompliance with any of the executive order components at this point is education first," he said. "So they’ve been issued a warning by the Division of Fire Safety, and given a couple of days to come into compliance. We’ll check back with them again on their progress toward that on Friday morning. And we’ll go from there.”
When asked whether local officials are right to be concerned, Schirling said there are a variety of camps operating in Vermont right now, and he believes the state’s guidelines and quarantine requirements — if followed — provide as much protection as possible based on the existing circumstances.
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