MONTPELIER — A golf tournament at the Mt. Anthony Country Club last month has sparked a small number of COVID-19 cases, state officials said Friday.
Dr. Mark Levine, the Vermont commissioner of health, said that three Vermonters and two people from New York state had tested positive for the coronavirus, which had been traced back to the Fall Foliage Tournament on Sept. 19.
Additionally, Levine said, there were six new COVID-19 cases reported in Bennington County Friday out of 13 statewide, but Levine said he didn't know at this time whether they would be traced back to the tournament. He said that 13 new daily cases was a "spike" relative to Vermont's consistently low coronavirus numbers, something that has happened periodically during the pandemic.
A total of 80 people attended the golf tournament, and he said the Department of Health had notified all those people by email Thursday night, thanks to the contact tracing records kept by the tournament organizers.
He said a pop-up testing site would open on Monday at Bennington Rescue, and that the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center would also expand its testing hours to accommodate those who may have been exposed at the tournament or by people who were at the tournament.
Levine said that people who were at the tournament should "consider getting tested even if they don't have symptoms."
'CLUSTER' OF CASES
Dr. Trey Dobson, chief medical officer at SVMC, said Friday, "I would refer to this as a cluster of cases at this point rather than an outbreak. To date, we have only three positive cases in Bennington and eight positive cases in Hoosick Falls related to the tournament. Both the Vermont Department of Health and New York Department of Health are conducting contact tracing."
Dobson noted that the tournament was almost 14 days ago, and that normally, symptoms for COVID-19 present within 2 to 14 days.
The medical center is increasing its testing capacity to accommodate individuals who may want to be tested, he said, adding, "We have outdoor COVID-19 testing scheduled for tomorrow [Oct. 3], and can increase as demand warrants it."
Asked who should consider testing, he said that would be anyone who was in contact — defined as 6 feet or less for greater than 15-minutes — with someone who tested positive within the previous two days.
Information about testing in Bennington can be found at https://svhealthcare.org/COVID-19/testing.
Southwestern Vermont Health Care Director of Marketing and Communications Ray Smith said SVHC is sponsoring a webinar with Dobson and other staff members on COVID-related issues Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Information on the event can be found at [https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/svhc-hosts-virtual-covid-qa-sessions,614602]
Despite the small outbreak, Levine noted that Vermont's coronavirus case load remained low. There hasn't been a death in the state from the virus in 66 days, and the total remains at 58. Total number of confirmed cases is 1,768, Levine said.
He said "there were no significant cases or clusters," even with news of the Bennington golf tournament.
"I want to thank the organizers of the event for their cooperation," Levine said, noting that "no matter the facility or event, it's just the nature of the virus."
"This is a reminder, that despite all of our good work," vigilance is still required, Levine said, referencing the wedding in Maine that resulted in more than 100 cases and several deaths.
"The bottom line is, whenever anyone goes out, you have to assess your own level of risk," said Levine, and follow mask wearing and social distancing guidelines.
News of the Bennington outbreak came during Gov. Phil Scott's regular Friday press conference, which is devoted to updating the state on the coronavirus and its effect on the state.
Scott said the small outbreak after the golf tournament was a reminder for people to follow the public health protocols of wearing masks and keeping at least six feet of social distancing.
"As long as everyone is following the guidelines and protocols, there shouldn't be a problem," he said, referring to other public events in the state.
"It's like any other event we're having here in Vermont," said the governor, who noted there had been other events held throughout the summer "without any issues."
Reporter Jim Therrien contributed to this article.
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