MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott closed all of the state’s ice rinks Friday for two weeks, a day after New Hampshire’s governor closed his state’s ice rinks for two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak with 158 cases spread over 23 different teams, Scott said the restriction was put in place to keep out-of-state “users from high risk areas into Vermont’s ice rinks.”
Earlier Friday, at his regular Friday news conference, Scott extended the pandemic state of emergency on Friday and responded to Vermont’s own on-ice outbreak, with 18 hockey and broomball players at the central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier. Most of the cases are adults and infections appear to be limited to players and their close contacts.
“To reduce the risk to Vermonters, and to help sustain the progress we have made, rinks in Vermont may not take any additional reservations for the next two weeks,” stated Scott.
Scott’s executive order also directs the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Natural Resources, to review current recreation guidance to determine if a more aggressive response is needed to prevent further spread of COVID-19 related to activities in indoor skating, hockey and other recreational facilities.
“We need all players and families to abide by the strict guidance we already have in place,” Scott said during his regular Friday morning news conference. “We talk a lot about the importance of staying vigilant and I know that while we continue to have success containing the virus, it can start to fall on deaf ears. But we can’t let that happen.”
Scott noted that New Hampshire doesn’t mandate masks during play and, also unlike Vermont, allows spectators.
Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist with the Vermont Department of Health, said the outbreak involves at least two youth teams and two adult teams that practice and play hockey and broomball in Montpelier.
Kelso said some of the infected players traveled out of state. She said the state is conducting contact tracing at this time.
“The contact tracing team is continuing their work to identify and reach out to people who may be affected,” Kelso said. “So, please, it is important that you answer the phone if you get a call from the Health Department. This is how we can give you and your family the information you need if you are at risk — and it is key to our ability to contain outbreaks from spreading in the community.”
The Health Department has informed schools if any of those identified as cases were in attendance while they were infectious.
DOH is setting up a pop-up testing site in the Barre City Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is urging anyone with a direct link to those affected to get tested.
People can register for the pop-up clinic at healthvermont.gov/covid19-testing.
In Brattleboro, the Nelson Withington Skating Facility is due to open on Nov. 21.
Vermonters were also told Friday that if they travel outside of the state for more than just quick trips they might have to quarantine when they get home because cases are rising, with only three border counties in New Hampshire — Coos, Sullivan and Cheshire — and one in New York — Clinton — still below 400 active cases per million people, the threshold for non-quarantine travel.
Kelso said this is unwelcome news for folks hoping to travel during the holidays, saying “The virus doesn’t watch the calendar.”
“All want to see friends and family,” said Kelso. “Because these are people we trust, we let our guard down more than we usually do. Fact is, we don’t know and they may not know if they’ve been exposed to the virus — especially if they live in an area virtually anywhere outside Vermont.”
Vermonters also learned that the Department of Health has identified two cases of COVID-19 at Union Elementary School in Montpelier, though health officials said they are unrelated to the hockey outbreak. These are the first cases of COVID-19 within a school since Vermont began phased reopening early last month, though seven schools in the state have seen associated cases of the virus. On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of DOH, said all the school-associated cases in Essex, South Burlington, Williston, Windsor and Manchester are among people who have been exposed to the virus in the community.
“The fact that this is the state’s first in-school transmission does not mean an escalation of the virus,” Kelso said. “It means that someone who was infectious transmitted it to someone — just this time, inside a school, rather than a workplace, a long-term care facility, or other setting.”
“Each outbreak is a learning experience, so we get better at slowing the spread while living our lives in this new reality,” said Scott. “Because if we want to keep businesses and schools open, if we want our kids playing sports and if we want to be able to get together with family and friends — all of which are really important to our mental health and social well-being — we have to be smart about how we do it.”
Scott reiterated the importance of pandemic safety including limiting the size of gatherings, wearing masks and maintaining 6 feet of physical distancing.
“We’ve got to avoid gathering in large crowds and traveling from red counties without quarantining,” he said. “By doing things a little differently and being smart, we can stay open, continue to send our kids to school and see family over the holidays. And we’ll keep ourselves in a position to come through this pandemic faster and on better economic footing than states who have lost countless lives, seen their healthcare systems pushed to the brink and who had to roll back their reopenings.”
Scott said he also hoped that Vermont’s children could enjoy Halloween this year as long as everyone understands “it’s not going to be exactly like last year.”
Kelso asked parents to work on maintaining distance between children and coming up with innovative ways to hand out candy.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” she said. “You can eat the candy you bought, just don’t tell our nutrition staff.”
Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont, said CCV is offering free college courses and training for the next two months to all Vermonters whose work or household situation has changed under the pandemic.
Anyone who was laid off or furloughed or had hours cut is eligible to choose from more than 100 different courses, said Judy, most available online with flexible schedules. She said the course are aligned with high-demand careers such as early childhood education, manufacturing and business; funding for supports services, such as computers, child care and transportation, is available. The funding was made available from the $1.25 billion the state received from the federal CARES Act
“For those of you struggling to find your bearings during this pandemic — this is a free opportunity to help you gain skills,” Judy said. “Here’s the challenge — you need to act quickly. Funding is only available for classes and training this fall, so you’ll need to sign up in the next couple weeks.”