MONTPELIER — State officials say an outbreak of the novel coronavirus connected to Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier has created four other outbreaks in the state.
At Gov. Phil Scott’s regular Tuesday news conference, Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said those that were initially infected have spread the virus to others and those have spread the virus further still. As of Monday, 70 cases have been linked to the hockey rink.
Of those, 28 are connected to an outbreak at Saint Michael’s College. The school has moved to remote learning this week, and all students are expected to be tested Saturday.
Six cases are connected to an outbreak at Union Elementary School in Montpelier. That school also went remote this week after a seventh case was reported there that was not connected to the hockey rink.
Workplaces have also seen outbreaks. One workplace has four cases and another has three. And multiple other schools and workplaces have seen single positive cases that have since been traced back to the hockey rink in the Capital City. The department didn’t say where those workplaces are or what work is done there.
Ben Truman, a spokesman for the department, said in an email Tuesday the department isn’t identifying where the outbreaks are or the other schools and workplaces impacted, despite some already being reported publicly, because the cases “may be cases associated with (for example) a workplace, but to protect individuals’ health privacy we don’t identify outbreaks by facility name in our data. This is particularly important when the number of cases are few, and the potential for the person to be identified is greater.”
Levine said the outbreaks are a “wake-up call” for residents. The governor echoed those sentiments saying it appeared the outbreak began because some weren’t following state guidelines to control the spread of the virus. More information about how the virus spread and why in connection to the hockey rink outbreak are expected Friday. Scott said some residents might be getting complacent, something he’s been warning about for months.
Levine said the new outbreaks appear to have been started by “modest-sized gatherings with familiar faces. Often food or drink, so no masks for a prolonged time.”
State officials believe the hockey rink outbreak didn’t start by someone infecting another on the ice, but may have occurred during car pooling or off-ice team events.
In response to the hockey rink outbreak, the state released new guidance Monday for youth and adult sports leagues. It states masks must be worn by all and at all times. Vermont teams can only participate in sporting events involving other teams in the state. If members of a team decide to play in another state, they must quarantine for 14 days once they return. Also, the guidance strongly discourages team-based social gatherings.
While the coronavirus pandemic may have slowed progress on Stafford Technical Center’s latest construction project, students remain committed to finishing the job.
For more than 30 years, STC’s Student Craft Corp. has built more than 15 houses and other buildings around Rutland City. Work on the latest house, on Mona Vista Avenue in Rutland’s northeast neighborhood, began last spring.
Jeff Fowler, construction technology instructor, oversees his 14 students who work in separate teams of seven because of COVID-19 restrictions.
In total, 40-60 students from STC’s plumbing, electrical, forestry and carpentry programs will work on the project from start to finish. The project gives students an essential hands-on experience that prepares them for careers in their chosen fields.
Fowler said the project teaches students “how to build real houses for real people and sell them for real money.”
He noted that this is a student-driven project, pointing out that he doesn’t wear a tool belt when onsite.
Construction typically takes about two years, but with the pandemic still spreading Fowler said it will be closer to three.
The team laid the foundation this spring and was able to pre-fabricate most of the walls in the STC workshop before COVID-19 forced all work to be suspended.
While safety is always top of mind on the job site, COVID-19 has required extra vigilance.
“It seems a little bit more work, but we’re coping at this point. And I think they’re doing well with it,” Fowler said.
Facial coverings are worn by all and social distancing is observed. The biggest inconvenience Fowler and others noted was having to deal with fogged up work goggles as consequence of face masks.
Work on the project will continue into the winter months with students transitioning to work on the interior of the house.
“We move a little bit slower, it’s a little bit colder,” Fowler said, explaining that the plan is to have the roof installed and be working inside by Christmas.
However, he said he is still waiting for the trusses to be delivered, which are almost six weeks out, again owing to COVID-19.
Increased demand and low supply caused by the pandemic has resulted in sharp increases in building material costs. Fowler said plywood has gotten more expensive. He noted that sheet goods for the deck being built were up $9 per sheet.
Fortunately, Fowler said STC has done “fairly well” to this point.
“The bulk of our material was purchased back in the spring before COVID hit,” he said.
Owen Simpson is a senior beginning his second year at STC.
He’s been working on installing the flooring system, and said he’s happy to be back on the project after it was cut short last spring.
“It’s definitely better this year,” he said. “I mean, wearing a mask isn’t too bad, the goggles fogged up a little bit.”
After graduating, Simpson hopes to work toward becoming a carpenter either at a construction company or by himself working with someone as an apprentice.
“Times are kind of uneven right now, so we’ll see how that goes, but that’s my dream right now,” he said.
Gennett Kerstetter, is a junior and second-year STC student. One of her arms is in a sling because of a broken collar bone, she has nonetheless been busy adding foam insulation to eye joists.
While she’s not a fan of constant facial coverings and her hybrid schedule, which alternates between in-person and remote learning, she likes being back on the job site.
“I’m happy I get to at least be in program,” she said.
Next year, Kerstetter is planning to join Vermont Technical College’s Academy of Science and Technology program to get an associate’s degree in construction management. The program allows students to work toward their high school diploma and begin their freshman year of college at the same time.
The Student Craft Corp. project is funded through a loan from the school district that is paid back when house is sold.
“Except for 2008, most all of our houses have sold within the time that they’re finished,” Fowler said, referring to the global financial crisis that occurred in 2007-08.
Fowler explained that an advisory committee made up of realtors, builders and architects helps select the property and design the house.
“We put the features in there that make it salable,” he said.
Two local leaders are offering to teach Rutland County board chairs some conflict resolution skills for free.
Michael Shank, of Brandon, and Lisa Ryan, of Rutland City, said Tuesday they got the idea to offer this free training after learning about each other’s backgrounds at a Project VISION meeting.
Ryan sits on the Rutland City Board of Aldermen and works as director of Rutland County Community Justice Center at BROC Community Action. Shank is chairman of the Brandon Planning Commission and is the communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. Each has a background in conflict mediation.
“I feel, over the last couple of months, that I’ve been watching the community split apart more and more, and part of it is probably enhanced by the fact we’re speaking virtually, primarily,” said Shank.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed most public entities into meeting remotely through online services such as Zoom. While some have resumed in-person meetings, many remain online or use a mix of both.
Shank and Ryan did not cite any specific issue or instance as an example of when the training they’re offering would come into play, though there have been several tense local controversies surrounding school flags and mascots as well as a heated presidential election cycle.
They have not yet designed a curriculum for the training and plan to see what the level of interest is like before working out a time and format. Those who lead a municipal, school or public entity board are invited to email Shank and Ryan at RSVP@RutlandResolves.org.
“I’m on the board of aldermen, and we could use it there, the School Board could use it,” said Ryan. “I think there’s many places around the county and different boards where skill building and different tactics around negotiation and issues would be really helpful for folks engaging in conversation.”
Shank said their goal isn’t to end conflicts or change anyone’s mind about an issue or topic. Both said conflict is a good thing and good can come from it when it’s managed well. Shank said they haven’t attempted an inventory of the skills Rutland County’s board chairs possess, but feel many could use this training simply because few people have had it.
Ryan said she sought education in mediation after having completed much of her official schooling. She returned home to figure out what she wanted to do and while working in a restaurant some people she was waiting on suggested it to her after talking to her for a little while.
Whatever the format ends up being, said Shank, it will likely be online. He doubts remote meetings will end anytime soon given the state of the pandemic, so it makes sense to train that way.
Ryan said group role playing will also be involved, as that’s the best way to simulate the situations they’re training people for.
Each said they hope word of mouth will spread word to the county’s leaders, but they may also do direct outreach. Ryan said the training was made free specifically so there would be few barriers to chairs taking them up on it. They’re also happy to train other board members if the chair can’t make it and there’s interest.
The hope, Ryan said, is those they train will pass their skills on to their boards. Also, she said, the training helps the individual in all aspects of their life.
Organizers of the regional marketing campaign said Tuesday that if the city wants to see results, it needs to think long term.
The Marketing Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Aldermen allocate another $16,000 to the campaign, which is aimed at getting people to move to the Rutland area. Organizers are asking towns in Rutland County to contribute $1 per person to support activities in the coming year, which Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region Executive Director Lyle Jepson said will include filtering and pursuing leads developed through the Real Rutland website.
“We have 5,000 email addresses that we need to do something with in a safe way,” Jepson said. “We need to automate the process.”
Jepson said an automated process funded with the money being sought by the campaign will identify “hot” leads from the collection, allowing the campaign to pair them with “catcher” chosen to speak to an individual family’s needs in considering moving to Rutland. Jepson said that includes pairing prospects with local families that have children roughly the same age.
Jepson said the campaign had raised $482,000 through four years. The city contributed $138,000, Jepson said, and $270,000 came from the local business community, with outlying towns providing the rest.
Alderman Sam Gorruso noted that he was certified as a marketing consultant and expressed misgivings about the campaign, saying the only marketing he had seen were the “I Love Rutland” stickers.
“They were really dumb,” he said. “They were the worst waste of money I had ever seen.”
Others at the meeting pointed out that the stickers were not part of the campaign, and Gorruso apologized. Gorruso said the city needed a brand and that he had recently spoken to someone who thought the city was still overrun by Los Solidos, a street gang that made headlines in the 1990s.
“We still haven’t branded ourselves out of that,” he said. “Real Rutland — it’s just another ‘blah-blah-blah’ kind of campaign in my opinion. ... We’ve got to get a hook.”
As an example of successful branding, Gorruso pointed to “Smiling Steve” at the Rutland Pharmacy, and suggested something centered on beloved local activities, playing somehow off words ending in “-ing.” He and Jepson exchanged contact information in order to discuss it further. Gorruso stressed that he, too, loved Rutland and believed it to be a special place.
Russ Marsan, co-owner of Carpenter & Costin and one of the campaign organizers, said that 70 people had come to the area as a direct result of the campaign, and some of those were buying multiple buildings, fixing them up and renting them out. He said two of his employees were brought here by the campaign.
“These folks are very much looking for a community to belong to,” he said. “They’re looking to make a difference and, for the most part, they’re looking to raise families.”
Alderwoman Sharon Davis asked whether the campaign was marketing to businesses or concentrating on bringing families to Rutland.
“This all started because our businesses were saying ‘We can’t find employees,’” Jepson said, adding that they would, of course, support people wanting to bring businesses with them.
Jepson said that in addition to the 70 people the campaign attracted, the overall effort likely helped retain some families, and reiterated the point that the campaign was a long-term one.
“We could see 70 people every one or two years and, boy, would that make a huge difference down the road,” he said.
Calif. on fire
California wildfires keep tens of thousands of residents from their threatened homes. A8
As Halloween pivoted to a warm, sticky embrace of refined sugar in the 1950s, candy corn became a staple favorite of the trick-or-treat crowd. But now, from New Mexico, come “chicos,” tasty Native American dried corn. B6