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Halloween blamed for surge in COVID cases at St. Michael’s College

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 6:21 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - Halloween gatherings may be to blame for a surge in COVID cases, including on at least one Vermont college campus.

The case count at St. Michael’s College in Colchester for the semester is 80; 85% of them come about a week after the Halloween weekend.

When I spoke with students a day after their classes went remote over the weekend, they all presumed Halloween was behind the uptick in cases. Since then, the administration says they, too, believe Halloween bears some of the blame thanks to contract tracing and information from the Department of Health about incubation periods.

“I don’t think it was that unexpected, I just think it was surprising to see the rise that we saw and the amplitude of it,” said Cameron Redicker, a senior at St. Mike’s.

Redicker says Halloween seemed to be a big weekend for gatherings, but on a campus that’s 98% vaccinated, this uptick in cases caught them off guard.

Sophomore Abby Kittler says the school has been allowing gatherings throughout the semester.

“There might have been more gatherings but it was pretty much like every other weekend,” Kittler said.

But given the timing of the spike in cases, college officials who say they worked with the state health department suspect Halloween parties played a role.

“The rainy weather, many of our students were inside, and as we’re contracting tracing, there’s lots of same names,” said Dawn Ellinwood, the vice president of student life.

Ellinwood says that she doesn’t know of a single student with COVID who has not been vaccinated.

An uptick of cases in the days following Halloween is not only seen at St. Mike’s, it is seen throughout the state.

Vermont case counts since Nov. 3 include three of the five highest daily totals since the start of the pandemic.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Patsy Kelso says this uptick is caused by a number of things, not just necessarily Halloween.

“Some Halloween, the increase in school age-children driving our increase in cases and also transmission in worksites,” Kelso said.

Upon hearing about the situation at St. Mike’s, she says this is an example of how quickly the delta variant can spread once it enters a community.

“The delta variant is really infectious and spreads easily from person to person and can infect people who are fully vaccinated,” Kelso said.

To mitigate the uptick on their campus, Ellinwood says they are adding testing for anyone who wants it and students are already looking to the next major holiday.

“That’s really important because everyone should be reassured, especially with Thanksgiving coming up and people going home to their families, I think it’s really important to offer testing for everyone,” Redicker said.

I wondered whether other college campuses are struggling with a similar situation to St. Mike’s. I checked UVM’s COVID-19 dashboard but it has not been updated since Halloween.

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