by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – It could be said that 2020 has been a year defined by Friday the Thirteenths. On Friday, March 13, Governor Phil Scott announced the beginning of an ongoing State of Emergency due to COVID-19 with Executive Order 01-20 that put the state into lockdown. After months of “turns of the spigot” by the Scott Administration that eased the lockdown measures, on Friday, November 13th, Governor Scott announced that some of those restrictions would be re-instated. He said the reason for bringing back restrictions was because “despite months of success, statewide there is an acceleration in COVID-19 transmission; from November 8, 2020 to November 12, 2020, the number of new cases reported statewide increased at a rate as high as 50% per day (from 23 to 47 to 72 and to 109 cases).”
The Vermont Department of Health tweeted on Sunday “#COVID fatigue is contributing to the rise in cases this fall. It’s very hard to sustain your motivation to distance, wear masks & avoid gathering. We are all tired of this pandemic. But, as @GovPhilScott says, please stay vigilant. We will get through this.”
Most worrisome, state officials have said, is that the metric of “case positivity” is rising. This number reflects the number of tests that come back positive for COVID-19, averaged over a week’s worth of tests. Up until recently, this number was well below 1%; on Sunday it was at 1.4%.
How it Started
In Hardwick and our surrounding towns, much of the first months of the pandemic felt uneventful. Our communities seemed to be a relatively safe island, with most towns reporting five or fewer cases. Some people speculated out loud that perhaps COVID-19 had already come through, noting what they thought seemed a higher rate of people feeling sick in January. The state did not begin reporting town-by-town until May, and when people saw the numbers it said what most in the area expected. Despite the fact that several towns registered between 1 and 5 cases, the map clearly showed that this island was as secure as people felt. Many towns had no reported cases. As summer drew to a close, the Governor announced schools would return to in-person learning, a decision that caused concern for some administrators, teachers, nurses and parents. Despite some challenges with school re-openings, the plans worked, according to school officials.
The Broomball Incident
On October 16, the state issued an alert about an outbreak associated with the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center, where “youth and adult recreational hockey and broomball teams” practiced. 18 people were expected to be impacted, but state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said “there has been no community spread of the virus beyond close contacts at this time.”
Three days later, that number had climbed to 30, and then spread far beyond Montpelier, according to the state, including St. Michael’s College in Colchester and multiple schools and workplaces. At the end of September, Barre City had 19 cases; as of last Friday, it had 99 known cases. Governor Scott on that day described “general community spread” as the main transmission vector, meaning what began as a localized outbreak had been spread to other towns.
NEK Begins to Get Hit Hard
The state has widely publicized a “travel map” showing other states’ counties color-coded to indicate whether Vermonters should travel there. Updates to the map were recently suspended, with the entire Northeast deemed too high-risk even for essential travel. The state has also maintained a similar map for Vermont, except instead of using traffic-light colors of red, yellow, and green, the in-state map uses various shades of blue. If Vermont applied the same colors to its own counties, most of the state would be red, including Lamoille, Orleans, and Washington Counties. Caledonia County would be yellow — only essential travel is recommended.