The entire sixth grade at Rutland Intermediate School and a “house” at Rutland Middle School were put on quarantine Thursday because of COVID-19 exposure, as Vermont had another record-setting day for new cases.
The Vermont Department of Health reported 148 new cases Thursday, surpassing the record of 122 set Monday. The state has repeatedly seen record highs during the past two weeks as the infection rate surges in the rest of the country.
The new measures at Rutland City Schools follow the quarantining earlier this week of two kindergarten classes at Northwest Primary School after a student there tested positive.
Schools around the state, including classrooms around central Vermont, also were remote-only through this week in order for cleaning, testing and tracing to be conducted.
Rutland Superintendent William Olsen said a student at Rutland Intermediate School and a staff member at Rutland Middle School each tested positive on Thursday.
“We’re really being very cautious on this,” Olsen said. “We’re going to quarantine the entire sixth grade, but I’m not thinking there’s much of a chance of spread, even among students that were in the same classroom.”
The middle school, Olsen said, is divided into three sub-units called “houses” that cross grade lines, but that largely keep to themselves within the building.
“They even try to assign movement patterns so the houses don’t cross,” Olsen said.
While students from different houses might mingle in after-school programs, Olsen said students from other houses will only be asked to quarantine if they had direct contact with the infected individual. He said Hickory House, which is subject to the quarantine, has 42 students attending in-person.
Rutland also saw the two most recent COVID-19 fatalities this week. Both were residents at Rutland Healthcare and Rehabilitation, which has reported cases among 26 residents and 13 staff.
Gov. Phil Scott ordered the state’s flags lowered to half-staff in memory of the victims of the pandemic Thursday, something he has done on the 19th of each month since April.
“Today, as we remember those we’ve lost, let’s honor them by renewing our commitment to protect one another, to support one another and to listen to what the science and the data are telling us,” Scott said in a statement issued early Thursday. “If we do, we’ll get through these difficult times faster, and recover stronger, than any other state.”
Despite the intense local impact, Rutland County only had three new cases reported Thursday. The largest share of positive cases centered on Washington County, which reported 50 on Thursday and has seen 325 new cases in the past 14 days.
“It will take a little while more for results of contact tracing to give an indication of what’s driving the recent spike,” Health Department spokesman Bennett Truman said Thursday. “Generally, they are a mix of outbreaks, situations and scattered cases. Put simply, the more virus is spreading, the more it spreads.”
State officials reported earlier this week that from Oct. 1 to Nov. 13, 71% of new outbreaks had been linked to “social events.” Since then, state officials have been urging Vermonters to avoid multi-family or inter-household gatherings. Truman said it will take time to see if Vermonters are following those guidelines.
“It takes a good week or two for it to show,” he said. “The most clear indicator will be in the days following Thanksgiving.”
Mayor David Allaire said late Thursday that an employee of the Rutland City Police Department also had tested positive, but there was no fear of exposure for the rest of the department.
“He hasn’t been to work in some weeks because he was out on a hunting trip,” Allaire said. “He hasn’t had any interaction with members of the department or the public for close to two weeks. ... He is OK, not showing any signs, no symptoms.”
Allaire said the employee was “given the green light” to return to work Monday, but city officials will discuss tomorrow whether to require him to get a negative COVID test first. Allaire said earlier this week he was tightening up restrictions on City Hall but he intended to keep the building open. Thursday he said he intended to stay that course for the time being.
“We’re going to re-examine that in the very near future — maybe even tomorrow,” Allaire said.
Around the nation, and reiterated repeatedly by state officials, citizens are urged not to travel for the upcoming holiday and not congregate in large gatherings across multiple households. Vermonters are urged to follow safety guidelines, including wearing a mask, hand sanitizing and social distancing.