The Vermont Department of Health is investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 cases related to youth and adult recreational hockey and broomball teams in central Vermont, officials said Friday, and the governor directed skating rinks to halt reservations through Oct. 30.
The outbreak is linked to people who practiced or played at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier earlier this month, officials said. So far, the Health Department has identified 18 confirmed cases among players and several close contacts and most are in adults.
“So far, there is no indication of community spread of the virus,” said Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist, at the governor's bi-weekly virus briefing.
In a Friday night release, Gov. Phil Scott said his order barring Vermont's ice skating rinks from accepting new reservations for two weeks is meant to prevent a rush of new users from high-risk areas. Scott's move follows New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu's announcement Thursday that all hockey activities at indoor rinks would be paused for two weeks following positive COVID-19 tests for 158 people associated with the sport over the last two months.
Dr. Ben Chan, New Hampshire state epidemiologist, said the cases come from 23 different New Hampshire hockey organizations and teams, “and there are additional connections with out-of-state ice hockey organizations.”
Scott said given the outbreaks in both states, the executive order will “reduce the risk to Vermonters, and to help sustain the progress we have made.” Rinks can proceed with already scheduled operations.
A pop-up testing site is being opened on Saturday at the Barre Auditorium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Health Department recommends people with direct links the teams or the Civic Center and their close contacts get tested.
“We're considering a number of steps to strengthen guidance, particularly around off-the-ice activities and inter-state play," Scott said earlier, during his bi-weekly virus briefly. “We also need all players and families to abide by the strict guidance we already have in place."
The Health Department's contact tracing team is continuing to reach out to people who may be affected, Kelso said. The governor urged people not to become complacent.
“If we want to keep businesses and schools open, if we want our kids playing sports, and if we want to get back together with family and friends, all of which is really important to our mental health and social well-being, we have to be smart about how we do it," he said.
“While small gatherings are OK, they still need to be done using precautions, like wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart," Scott said. "But we’ve got to avoid gathering in large crowds, crowds from red counties without quarantining. Even sharing food at these types of events can be risky.”
FREE COLLEGE COURSES
The Vermont State Colleges is offering more than 100 free college courses and trainings this fall to Vermonters whose jobs have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, using federal relief funding, officials said.
The idea grew out of a House committee and the Legislature allocated $2.3 million for the effort.
“If you or someone in your household has been laid off, furloughed, had your hours cut, or you've been employed in an industry that has been impacted by this pandemic, you are eligible for these free classes and trainings,” said Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont.
Most of the courses are available online, with flexible scheduling offerings, she said. Funding is only available for classes and trainings this fall and participants need to sign up in the next couple of weeks for the courses, Judy said.
Two coronavirus cases have been identified at Union Elementary School in Montpelier and are the state's first instance of transmission within a school, Kelso said. The Health Department is working to identify close contacts and the cases are not connected to the hockey-related outbreak, she said.
"It does mean that despite our low rate of COVID-19 in Vermont, this highly infectious virus is still a risk to Vermonters, and we have to keep up our own personal and institutional efforts to prevent its spread in every way that we can," she said.
THE NUMBERS Vermont reported 13 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, for a statewide total to date of 1,915. Six of the new cases were in Chittenden County, three in Bennington County, and one each in Windham, Windsor and Washington counties. The total number of deaths has remained at 58 since late July.