Did COVID-19 spread at UVM basketball game?

Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:09 PM EDT
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Did COVID-19 spread among thousands of fans packed into a University of Vermont basketball gym?

When our Cat Viglienzoni first asked the Vermont Health Department about the games back in March, they said if you were in the crowd, you didn't need to worry. But the data may show otherwise. A survey done recently by VT Digger found that 20 people who attended one of the UVM basketball playoff games in early March got COVID-19 and dozens more came down with symptoms.

Cat spoke with one of those fans who tested positive.

"Immediately after that game I came down with a head cold," said Kevin Arthur of Essex Junction.

If you ask Arthur where he got COVID-19, he'll tell you he's got a pretty good idea where: the University of Vermont basketball playoffs back in early March.

"You'll never know for sure where you picked it up. But if I'm a betting man, that's where it is," Arthur said.

But he says he wasn't able to get a test until late March. And by the time health department contact tracers called him, the game was a distant memory. He told them about it but says it wasn't on their radar.

"They were more worried about-- had I traveled from anywhere," he said.

While the health department is acknowledging some lessons learned in the wake of the virus' spread here in Vermont, they also at the time did not consider the game here to be much of a threat. After I learned of a few cases connected to the game back in March, I went to the health department asking them if they were concerned for the people who attended. And they told me the people who attended were low risk and did not need to get tested.

"That game was well in the infancy of the virus in Vermont," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

Friday, the governor said the games were before the state of emergency. And Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said they've learned a lot since then about how the virus spreads and gotten better at contact tracing.

"We can take a step back, take stock of what we did, what we did right, where there might have been gaps and where we could have improved," Levine said.

Lessons learned from events like that and months of experience with the virus since then are currently being implemented in the Winooski outbreak. Friday, Levine said they'd now linked 101 cases and two hospitalizations to the outbreak. But he said the cases remain within the same social group. They're still watching more than 100 contacts who could have contracted the virus.

"We do need to give it more time," Levine said. "However, I hope I won't be providing frequent updates on it because it'll be at such a low level."

At Friday's press conference we also got the latest data from the state on Vermont's health metrics. Once again, despite the Winooski outbreak, all of our restart data still looks good, which they say means we can continue to reopen.

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