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Officials: St. Mike's COVID-19 Cases Linked To Central Vt. Outbreak

Sign warning visitors not to enter at St. Michaels College
Henry Epp
/
VPR File
St. Michael's College has closed its campus to most visitors. The campus is the site of an ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, a cyber attack at UVM Health Network, the latest on the upcoming election and more for Friday, Oct. 30.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Vermont Department of Health reports 14 new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported 14 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. More than half of the new cases are in Chittenden County. New cases were also identified in Windham, Addison, Rutland and Windsor counties.

Six people are currently hospitalized, with two being treated in the ICU. To date, 2,141 people have tested positive for the disease in Vermont.

The state has seen an average percent positivity rate of 0.5% for tests conducted over the lasts seven days.

State health officials are monitoring 139 people as close contacts of confirmed cases.

St. Michael's College outbreak linked to Central Vt. broomball and hockey outbreak

An outbreak of COVID-19 at St. Michael’s College has been traced back to one that started among hockey and broomball players in Central Vermont.

There are now 41 cases at St. Mikes and 87 connected to the hockey outbreak.

Mike Pieciak, Commissioner, Dept. of Financial Regulation, said the Central Vermont outbreak can be connected to cases all over the state.

“The outbreak led to four additional outbreaks, although [they were] much smaller in size, except for the outbreak at St. Michael’s College … Further, though not outbreaks, there were exposures at 19 other locations, including worksites and schools,” Pieciak said.

State epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said several factors led to the rapid spread.

"There were gatherings indoors and outdoors, and at times people were not wearing masks..." She said. "We've also seen that people were not always strictly following quarantine."

State modeling predicts Vermont could see its daily cases of COVID-19 triple in the coming weeks. Gov. Phil Scott and other state leaders sayd Vermonters can keep infection rates low if they don’t get complacent about following public health guidelines, like physical distancing and mask wearing.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Health Department is monitoring more than a dozen potential COVID-19 exposures at schools

The Vermont Department of Health is monitoring over a dozen instances of potential COVID-19 exposures at schools and childcare facilities.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said most of these cases involved small numbers.

"But I again stress, because this is always an important take-home point, any case represents significant disruption," Levine said.

He said he's concerned that cases showing up in schools indicates that people aren't following coronavirus precautions. Levine and other state officials urged Vermonters to remain vigilant and follow guidelines, like mask wearing and social distancing.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Burke, Lyndon town schools see three cases of COVID-19

Students at the Burke and Lyndon town schools will remain online until next week after three positive COVID-19 cases in two of the unified district's schools.

An announcement from the Kingdom East School District on Wednesday noted the three cases are among the Burke Town School and the Lyndon Town School.

The Caladonian Record reports the Health Department completed contact tracing this week.

Lyndon Town School resumed in-person learning for other grades Thursday. Only sixth-graders are learning remotely through Monday.

A message from the Burke principal says the entire school will return to in-person learning Monday.

- Matthew Smith

Zuckerman says more enforcement of pandemic guidelines is necessary

Multiple coronavirus outbreaks across Vermont have pushed COVID-19 case counts to their highest levels since April.

Democratic candidate for governor David Zuckerman says lack of enforcement may have contributed to the spike.

Zuckerman gives Gov. Phil Scott credit for using his executive authority to institute a host of COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

But he says Scott has been less willing to impose sanctions on businesses and individuals that refuse to comply with public health guidelines.

“You know, the governor’s put out a lot of guidelines and not a lot of enforcement, whether it was masks, whether it was opening up of restaurants and events,” Zuckerman said. “But there was very little oversight, and that’s a problem.”

Zuckerman said lax adherence to coronavirus protocols may be contributing to the latest spike in cases.

The Scott administration says Vermont still enjoys the lowest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the United States.

And Scott noted earlier this week that Vermont hasn’t had a COVID-relate death since late July.

- Pete Hirschfeld

Gov. Scott urges Vermonters not to let their guards down

Gov. Phil Scott is urging Vermonters not to become complacent when it comes to following public health guidelines intended to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The state has seen its daily case count increase in the last week due to multiple outbreaks. State modeling predicts the daily case count could triple in the coming weeks.

Scott said residents can slow the spread of the virus.

"We need to double down on efforts to contain the virus. That means masking up, keeping six feet apart, washing your hands, keeping social gatherings small and just amongst those you trust, especially as we move indoors," he said Friday. "And make sure you follow our travel guidance."

- Liam Elder-Connors

2. University of Vermont reaches a testing milestone

The University of Vermont has only seen a handful of cases of COVID-19 since it brought more than 10,000 students back to campus this fall.

UVM officials credit weekly testing and student behavior for keeping infection rates low.

Parties were a major concern for Burlingtonians who live in neighborhoods near the college.

Louis Seigel was one resident who raised concerns. The 71-year-old has been in his neighborhood for 20 years and said the students are usually pretty loud; but not this year.

“There have been very few disturbances if any … And the other thing I noticed is the respect for mask wearing amongst UVM students is quite extensive,” Seigel said.

Testing success could lead to more funding

UVM's success could help the school make a case for more state and federal funds. UVM is facing a budget shortfall due to the pandemic.

State Sen. Phil Baruth is chair of the education committee and an English professor at UVM. He expects congress to eventually pass another stimulus bill. When that happens, he says UVM won’t be the only institution asking for more money.

“Right now, UVM has a relatively good story to tell and they’re not being shy about it. … I think they’re hoping for funding and they’ve got a good set of statistics so far to show they're spending what they already got responsibly,” Baruth said.

Colleges in Vermont had mostly avoided COVID-19 outbreak, but a surge in cases was identified at St. Michael’s College in Colchester last week.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

3. State officials say statewide COVID-19 testing unaffected by cyberattack at UVM

Officials say Vermont’s coronavirus testing capacity won’t be affected by a cyberattack that took down the electronic records system at the state’s largest hospital.

The University of Vermont Medical Center says patients can still receive care but hospital workers can't use many of their normal computer systems.

Gov. Phil Scott said Friday his team has worked to make sure the outage at UVMMC won’t delay coronavirus testing.

“We’ve been working around the clock taken several steps to ensure there is no interruption to COVID testing,” Scott said.

Hospitals around the country have been targeted this week by Russian hackers, according to the Washington Post. The FBI is investigating the incident at UVMMC.

- Liam Elder-Connors

For updates regarding the cyberattack at the University of Vermont Medical Center, head here.

4. VPR will follow The Associated Press in calling local and national races

The Associated Press will call the winner in more than 7,000 races this election … including contests in Vermont and the presidential election. VPR follows the AP’s calls. With an increase in mail-in voting due to the pandemic, there could be delays declaring the winner in certain races.

Julie Pace is Washington Bureau Chief for the AP. She said that's OK.

"There’s no rule that we have to have a winner declared on the third. We declare a winner when we know enough about the vote count,” Pace said.

Pace said there is no one metric The Associated Press relies on to call a race.

"The real benchmark that we look for is -  is there any possible way that the trailing candidate can catch up?" she said.

Pace said a delay does not mean there’s an issue with the vote. It’s likely an indication that not enough of the vote has come in yet … and the race is still too close to call. The AP has stringers and analysts working in all 50 states, collecting and analyzing the data county by county.

- Mark Davis

More from VPR: VPR To Join ProPublica Election Integrity Initiative

<a id="&quot;&quot;pawlet&quot;&quot;" name="&quot;&quot;pawlet&quot;&quot;">5. State officials say they are aware of military-style training camp in West Pawlet </a>

State law enforcement officials say they’re aware of a military-style training camp in West Pawlet — but say that so far, they’re not aware of any laws that have been broken.

VTDigger reported that neighbors of Slate Ridge have raised concerns about the site for years. Neighbors have also been threatened and intimated by the owners of Slate Ridge, according to the news outlet.

The news about Slate Ridge comes amid national concerns about anti-government groups, including how some groups send armed individuals out to watch polling places on Election Day.

Vermont Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling said his department has received multiple reports about Slate Ridge.

“Some of those fact patterns have been investigated and reported up to prosecutors to ensure our assessment that nothing rising to the level of criminal charges has occurred at this stage,” he said.

Schirling said the department has shared information with federal authorities, but he could not discuss any potential investigations.

- Liam Elder-Connors

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