Orthodox Jewish camp in Rutland warned over COVID violation

Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 5:44 PM EDT
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An out-of-state Orthodox Jewish summer camp group crowding into a Rutland area hotel has run into trouble with authorities over state coronavirus violations.

Over the weekend, two large groups of campers poured into Rutland Town and Bennington for two separate programs run by BRC Teens Camp. While the group staying at Southern Vermont College in Bennington is following occupancy orders, the one in Rutland is not. That's why residents are demanding the state step in.

"We are a community that wants to see visitors of all walks of life and for people to come, but we need to do it safely," said Josh Terenzini, the chair of the Rutland Town Selectboard. He says the community is worried the out-of-state campers who just arrived at the Holiday Inn aren't following the governor's guidelines. "We were obviously concerned with the sheer volume of people who were coming and sort of the location of where they were coming from, due to that area being such a hot bed of COVID-19 activity over the last several months."

The Department of Public Safety says upon checking on the Orthodox Jewish camp for teens hosted by the Holiday Inn, the team discovered Wednesday morning that between 350 to 400 campers are scheduled to stay there for the next three weeks, the majority of them from the greater New York City area. The hotel fits only 600 people, so per the governor's executive order limiting capacity to 50 percent, the camp is not in compliance.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling says his team is giving the Holiday Inn 72 hours to meet that cap, essentially kicking out 50 to 100 campers.

"We're here, and we're here to stay, and then we're going home," said Rabbi Moshe Perlstein, the BRC Teens Camp's director. He says over the next three weeks none of the campers will step off the hotel property and that they canceled all outdoor excursions. He also says each of the campers took a COVID-19 test within three to four days of traveling to Vermont via tour buses this past weekend, all of which came back negative.

He says any campers whose results were positive had to stay behind. "Our concern is the children should be happy, the people in Vermont should equally be as happy. The children should be safe and the people of Vermont should be safe," Perlstein said.

He says if he has to send campers home to meet state standards, he will. "It's a shame, but safety and health come first," he said.

Terenzini says the town is still not satisfied by the reduction of campers at the hotel. He says 300 out-of-staters is too large a number and risks local residents' health.

Holiday Inn officials did not return calls to WCAX Wednesday. The Dept. of Public Safety says it is ultimately the hotel's responsibility to comply with occupancy orders.