MONTPELIER — State officials are investigating a potential outbreak of the novel coronavirus connected to the hockey rink in Montpelier.

They also released updated guidance for visits and testing at long-term care facilities.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s regular Tuesday news conference, Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said 12 people connected to hockey have tested positive. Levine said they are all from central Vermont and are members of youth and adult hockey leagues that played at Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier.

“Contact tracing is underway, and we do not yet know the connection between the youth and adult players. The number of cases should be considered preliminary at this point and subject to change,” the commissioner said.

Levine said while those that tested positive had practiced at the hockey rink, state officials don’t know whether the virus was spread at the rink or through other means such as car pooling, team gatherings or group meals. He said team rosters and schedules are being collected and state officials are creating a timeline.

Levine said the department has recommended adults who participated in recent games get tested for the virus. Levine said the youth league is recommending the same for its players.

“We are not yet recommending testing for the community at large,” he said.

Levine said recreational hockey leagues have been going on since the summer. He said they’ve had a good track record up to this point so state officials are looking into what caused these cases.

State officials are currently working on guidance for winter sports, including hockey. The commissioner said that process is ongoing and at this point this incident isn’t a reason to cancel the season.

“That would not be the appropriate response,” he said.

Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said the state has made some changes to its guidance for long-term care facilities. Smith said a few weeks ago the federal government made some changes to its guidance for nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid and these changes are in response to that.

Smith said the changes went into effect Monday and include testing requirements. The secretary said staff at facilities will need to be tested based on of positivity rates in the county the facility is in. Smith said at the lowest level, below 5% positivity, staff members must be tested monthly. More than 5% and staff are to be tested weekly. If more than 10% he said staff will be tested twice a week. As of Tuesday, the entire state is at less than 5% positivity.

The guidance addresses indoor visits as well. Smith said nursing homes with 0 to 10% county positivity rates will be allowed to have indoor visits with strict parameters. The secretary said only outdoor visits will be allowed if the positivity rate goes higher than 10% for the county.

If a positive case is reported within a facility, Smith said visitations will be suspended except for compassionate care situations, such as someone at the facility being close to death.

“We know that an inability to see family and loved ones has had an impact on our long-term care residents. We want to ensure that we address that impact while still keeping our long-term care residents safe,” Smith said.

He said visitors will be required to participate in a health screening, will have to observe physical distancing and wear a mask.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com

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