Vermont reported 28 cases of Covid on Friday, including seven cases stemming from a wedding at Boyden Farm in Cambridge.
It was the highest single-day total since Oct. 4 and the second-highest total since early June, according to Department of Health data.
Half of the 28 cases were connected to three outbreaks: The ice rink-related outbreak in Montpelier now reporting 43 cases, an outbreak at St. Michael’s College that currently stands at eight cases, and the wedding in Cambridge.
The wedding cases didn’t surface for a week. The wedding was supposed to be outdoors, but a thunderstorm forced the 77 people at the ceremony to head indoors.
Each of the outbreaks has led to local action to quell the spread. St. Michael’s and Union Elementary School in Montpelier have switched to remote learning, and the staff of the Boyden Farm in Cambridge where the wedding was hosted have been tested for the virus.
But officials are still urging caution, particularly as the nation reaches a potential third peak in virus cases.
“Keep in mind, we have predicted we would see an uptick in cases, and the timing is actually as expected,” said Dr. Mark Levine, head of the state Department of Health.
Gov. Phil Scott said that while the outbreaks are concerning, Vermont does well compared with other states — such as Wyoming, the only state with fewer people than Vermont, which has had nearly 300 cases a day during the past week.
“This is about mitigating and managing,” Scott said. “We watch these numbers every single day. And what we’ll do is maybe alter [the guidelines] in a strategic way surgically, and maybe enforcing some of the guidelines that we already have in place.”
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He told Vermonters to continue to follow social distancing and masking rules.
“When we let our guard down — we become complacent, we don’t mask up, we travel from different areas or go to different areas that we shouldn’t be traveling to, be gathering [in the company] of people that are unsafe — that’s when things happen,” he said.
Levine said several of the outbreaks resulted in “downstream impact,” as infected people spread the virus to close contacts and outward to the community.
He said the outbreak in Montpelier has now been connected to two colleges with six cases, seven schools with 12 cases, seven workplaces with 12 cases, and two hospitals with two cases. That adds up to a total of 240 contacts.
“It’s easy to fall into pandemic fatigue. But the virus itself does not tire,” Levine said. “We all live in communities, and the places we spend time then reflect the amount of virus we see in our communities.”
Levine said the increasing number of outbreaks in Vermont are likely connected to several factors: increased fall tourism, the “encroaching red zone” in Vermont’s neighboring states, people moving indoors as the weather grows cooler, increasing contacts and statewide reopening measures.
At a press conference Tuesday, state officials reported out-of-staters’ trips to Vermont increased in early October, although fewer visitors came this year compared to fall 2019.
The model report on Tuesday also showed that residents in an increasing number of nearby counties are no longer able to travel to Vermont without quarantining. Clinton and Essex counties in New York, Coos and Grafton counties in New Hampshire, and Franklin County in Massachusetts — all bordering Vermont — no longer meet Vermont’s travel guidelines.
If Vermont were evaluated by its own travel map guidelines, three counties would be in the yellow zone: Chittenden, Bennington and Windsor counties.
Scott said as colder weather settles in people are more likely to move events and gatherings indoors. The state, however, is comfortable with the current restrictions on indoor spaces for businesses, he said.
The wedding in Cambridge was planned as an outdoor gathering, but was moved inside because of a thunderstorm.
“We’ll watch the number of outbreaks, we’ll see what happens, and then we’ll ask those who participate in these events,” he said.
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Contact tracers say in the spring people had two or three close contacts, Levine said. Now they have “six or seven or more.”
He said he knows many Vermonters will be closely eyeing the numbers in the coming days, but urged them to remember the real people affected.
“They are family members, workmates, classmates, friends, neighbors, or people we only see once in a while,” he said. “But as we discuss these outbreaks and the data, please keep the lives behind the numbers in mind.”
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