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18 identified in Vt. youth and adult hockey league outbreak

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 6:24 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 6:25 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont health officials Friday said the number of COVID cases linked to a youth and adult recreational hockey league in central Vermont has now expanded to 18, with potential spread at several schools and workplaces.

Vt. Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said they are still looking for the index case in the hockey outbreak. She says some of the teams did travel out of state, but even then, it’s difficult to pinpoint how exactly the individuals became infected. “There’s travel to non-green areas, there’s not wearing masks, not social distancing. I’m not saying these things happened, these things are potential risk factors that could lead to spread,” she said.

New Hampshire, which suspended hockey leagues this week, is recording 158 cases among 23 teams. But New Hampshire’s guidance surrounding recreational sports is a lot different with players not required to wear masks and spectators allowed.

“We’re asking players to wear a mask during play, and if you can’t do that when you’re playing, and if it’s that uncomfortable, then don’t play. It’s as simple as that,” said Governor Phil Scott. He said he’s also concerned about out-of-state players coming to play hockey in Vermont now that they can’t play in New Hampshire. He says new guidance is coming out soon.

Health officials Friday also reported the first cases of transmission within a school, with two people at Union Elementary in Montpelier infected. This is not associated with the hockey outbreak and officials would not say if it’s in adults or children. “It does mean that despite our low rate of COVID-19 in Vermont, this highly infectious disease is a risk to Vermonters,” Kelso said.

The Montpelier cases were among at least seven reported in Vermont schools this week. As the state sees an uptick in cases both from the hockey outbreak and in schools, Kelso says it’s concerning but not unexpected. Vermont has 100 extra contact tracers that can spring into action if needed.

The governor said if Vermonters continue to follow the rules, we can keep the state open, kids can keep going to school, and we’ll be able to see family around the holidays. He did say he doesn’t think we’ll ever go back to the strict rules we saw in March given what we’ve learned so far. “We’re in control of this and we just can’t take this lightly. We are impacting other people’s lives. Adhere to the guidelines and we’ll be okay,” Scott said.

STATE OF EMERGENCY EXTENDED

Scott on Thursday extended the state’s emergency order for the seventh time since the pandemic began. It is now set to expire in mid-November. The governor said if Vermonters continue to follow the rules, we can keep the state open, kids can keep going to school, and we’ll be able to see family around the holidays. He did say he doesn’t think we’ll ever go back to the strict rules we saw in March given what we’ve learned so far.

HEALTH/EDUCATION UPDATE

Testing is underway at Northwest Medical Center after a doctor tested positive there, but Secretary Mike Smith indicated the risk of spread is low there.

Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey says that new waivers will allow every Vermont student to get free school meals.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported a total of 1,915 coronavirus cases in the state and 58 deaths. A total of 176,605 tests have been conducted, 670 travelers are being monitored, 9,531 have completed monitoring and 1,687 have recovered.

$25M IN LOST WAGE ASSISTANCE BENEFITS TO BE RELEASED

Out of work Vermonters can soon expect a small bump in unemployment benefits. The state will be handing out $25-million in federal Lost Wage Assistance benefits later this month to about 3,400 people. These benefits can be up to $300 per person. It replaces the $600 that went away at the end of July. The Labor Department is working to make sure applicants qualify for LWA before they distribute it.

VERMONT STATE COLLEGES OFFERING FREE COURSES

The state college system is offering free courses for the next two months to all Vermonters whose work or household changed due to the pandemic. If you were laid off, furloughed, had hours cut, self-employed and lost work, or if you were impacted by your daycare closing -- you are eligible. You can choose from about 100 courses at CCV, VTC, Castleton, or Northern Vermont University. The idea is to help those people gain new skills, boost their resume, or change careers.

“Most of the courses are available online with flexible scheduling offerings. All are aligned with the high demand careers such as early childhood education health care, business, and manufacturing,” said Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont.

But you have to act quickly. Judy said these courses are only available this fall and you only have a couple of weeks to sign up.

TRICK-OR-TREAT GUIDANCE

Halloween is just around the corner and Doctor Kelso says people can still celebrate safely. Montpelier is discouraging trick-or-treating, but the doctor says keep these things in mind -- stay six-feet apart from people not in your household, keep a distance between yourself and trick or treaters at your door. She also offered some ideas including candy bags ready to grab or a candy slide. She said to wear a mask and incorporate it into your costume. Keep your group small, skip busy neighborhoods, and if you’re sick -- stay home.

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