Small social gatherings without masks and failure to quarantine helped fuel a coronavirus outbreak that began at a hockey rink in central Vermont and has spread to at least 89 people across the state.
During a press conference Friday, health officials provided details about the outbreak, which has spread to 18 towns in four counties and impacted workplaces and schools. They said the outbreak, which has contributed to a resurgence of the virus in the state, should serve as a reminder for people to wear masks and practice social distancing.
"I want to be clear: We have the tracing and testing capacity to manage our way through theses sorts of upticks," Gov. Phil Scott said during the press conference. "But we also need the help of all of you to mitigate this."
The first two cases of the outbreak was reported to health officials on Oct. 7, involving people who practiced or played at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier. That number quickly turned to 13, the officials said, and the outbreak began spreading to other counties, including Chittenden County, as well as to Union Elementary School in Montpelier.
Scott said there had been "suspicions" that the outbreak was connected to someone who traveled to the rink from New Hampshire, but said those had not been confirmed.
Contact tracers determined that the outbreak quickly moved to St. Michael's College in Colchester. Eight cases there were initially traced to the civic center outbreak, a number that has ballooned to 30 cases as of this week.
Dr. Patsy Kelso, the state's epidemiologist, said one culprit behind the transmission of the virus was small gatherings among family and friends during which masks were not worn at all times.
People not strictly following quarantine guidelines after traveling; having close contact with symptomatic people; and failing to stay at home when showing symptoms themselves also contributed to the outbreak, Kelso said.
Meanwhile, Scott said during the press conference the state was offering support after the University of Vermont Health Network was targeted in a cyber attack.
Scott said authorities were working to determine if the attack was linked to similar events around the country. He added there had been no known impact to the state's IT system.
In an interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston affiliate NBC 5 News, Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling on Thursday characterized the penetration of the University of Vermont Health Network's systems as the largest-ever cyberattack in Vermont that he was aware of.
Federal authorities warned the public Wednesday that cybercriminals were attacking health care systems with extortion attempts using ransomware, which locks systems until money is paid to decrypt files.
NBC News reported that it appears to be the work of the same hackers who infected several other hospitals nationwide with ransomware.
Late Thursday, the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington said it had no word yet if this was a ransomware attack.
The attack caused shutdowns of a South Burlington finance office and forced the rescheduling of some elective procedures at the UVMMC Thursday. The emergency room remained open. Elective procedures had to be rescheduled.