Vermont health officials are investigating an outbreak with at least a dozen youth and adult hockey players and an unspecified number of cases in schools.
"Several" coronavirus cases are associated with four different schools in the state, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday, and at least 12 cases have been found among youth and adult hockey players in the Montpelier-central Vermont area.
Contact tracing is underway, Levine said, calling the number of cases among hockey players "preliminary," and "subject to change." The state doesn't yet know the connection between youth and adults players, but both leagues practice at Central Vermont Memorial Civics Center in Montpelier.
With regard to the school cases, Levine noted that there have been no known instances of transmission of the virus in the schools. All cases associated with schools to date have been among people who were exposed to the virus in the community, not in the classroom.
The state hasn't directed the schools to revert to remote learning, instead leaving the decision up to local administrators.
Still, health officials are expecting a rise in coronavirus cases through November and continue to urge people to adhere to coronavirus safety practices. State leaders are also urging people to get the flu shot to avoid a "twindemic," and mitigate stress on the health care system.
Scott said he and Levine received their flu shot Tuesday morning. State data shows just over a 9% increase in the number of people who have gotten flu shots over this time last year.
Additionally, health officials released updated coronavirus guidelines to allow indoor visits at long-term care facilities Tuesday, effective immediately.
"As you all know, protecting the vulnerable in our long term care and other similar facilities has been a top priority for us during the pandemic. And unfortunately, this has required a lot of sacrifice from our seniors and their families," Scott said Tuesday. "I know this remains difficult for all of us, but especially for those who have not seen family members for months. But we have an obligation to protect them and the staff, and we take this very seriously. So we're going to continue to proceed with caution."
Only two visitors are permitted at any given time and must follow rules around scheduling times, provide contact information and quarantine when appropriate. Visitors will be subject to symptom screening, physical distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene and personal protective equipment.
If a county exceeds 10% positivity rates, only outdoor visitation or compassionate care visits would be allowed. If there is a positive case in a facility, visits will be suspended except for compassionate care. Should there be increasing rates of positivity levels in counties, the frequency of required staff testing would also increase.
"I would encourage everyone who can have one, even if you've never gotten one before. This is the year to do it," Scott said. "It's an important part of keeping the capacity of our healthcare system open in order to care for COVID patients if needed as well as protect our health care workers."
Meanwhile, anticipated new data on the level of in-person and online learning taking place in schools throughout the state is expected to be released this week. More schools in Vermont are moving to in-person learning, Scott said in a Friday press conference.
Guidelines for winter sports at Vermont's public schools are expected to be released by the end of the month as well. Practices for winter sports now likely won't start until after Thanksgiving because officials pushed back their initial Oct. 15 release date. Games and competitions will likely begin after the first of the year.
Since most winter sports are held indoors, the considerations are "more complex" and "more problematic" than fall sports, Vermont Education Secretary Daniel French said Friday. Winter Sports guidance will include provisions that are general to all winter sports, as well as rules that are specific to each sport. Some sports appear to already be out of the question.
"At this point, I'm not optimistic about our ability to allow wrestling and indoor track this winter," French said, noting the dangers of spreading coronavirus through close contact and large groups congregating indoors.
The task force is still working to find a path forward for other winter sports including basketball and hockey, French said. Officials are also updating their general coronavirus safety guidance for schools.