With this regular feature, the Banner runs down breaking local and regional developments in the coronavirus pandemic.
The statistics supplied by the Vermont Department of Health at midday each day are accurate as of the end of the previous day. The information is preliminary and subject to change.
Two Vermonters died of COVID-19 over the past day, the health department reported Thursday. The death toll is now 77.
Twenty-nine Vermonters are hospitalized with the disease; three of those patients are in intensive care units.
The health department reported 73 new cases of COVID-19 over the past day. The cumulative total reported is 4,763, which is 121 higher than the previous day’s total. The department did not explain the discrepancy.
Each of Vermont’s 14 counties reported at least one new case over the past day. Chittenden County had 22 new cases; Windham County had 10; Washington County had nine; Franklin County had seven; Bennington County had six; Addison and Orange counties each had three; Caledonia, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Orleans, Rutland and Windsor counties each had two; and Essex County had one.
Among Vermont counties, Bennington has the seventh-highest rate of COVID-19, at 64.8 cases per 10,000 residents, and Windham County is seventh, at 64.6. Washington County is first, at 126.6 cases per 10,000.
So far, 230,109 people have been tested.
The number of Vermonters reported to have recovered from COVID-19 rose by 92, to 2,818.
The health department reported that 396 people were being monitored for the disease as of Friday, an increase of 12 from Thursday. Of these, 227 are visitors to Vermont.
HEALTH DEPARTMENT UPDATE
The number of COVID-19 cases in Vermont now includes probable cases that have been reported to the Health Department since September 6, 2020, the department said Friday.
A case is considered “probable” if the person tested positive on an antigen test and has symptoms of COVID-19 or epidemiologic evidence, or has symptoms of COVID-19 and is epidemiologically linked to a confirmed case of COVID-19.
This change is reflected in the following reports: Vermont Dashboard, Weekly Data Summary, and COVID-19 in Communities. The department’s COVID-19 information page is at healthvermont.gov/covid-19
RUTLAND STUDENTS RETURN TO IN-PERSON CLASSES
Students at Rutland City Public Schools will be back for in-person classes on Monday following a week of remote instruction post-Thanksgiving but officials are warning students and parents that could change without much warning.
“Please keep in mind that shifting conditions or a COVID-19 case brought into the school community always creates the possibility that we may have to shift to remote learning or quarantine individuals, groups, whole schools, or even the entire district,” said Superintendent Bill Olsen in letter on Thursday to the schools community.
He asked the community to consider the guidance from the state Health Department and Education Agency in order to keep schools safe, healthy and open, WCAX-TV reported.
“Screenings on COVID-like symptoms and restricted travel help to stop the spread of the virus into school buildings. The new Executive Order restricting multi-household social gatherings is meant for the same purpose,” he said.
MOUNT GREYLOCK SCHOOLS MOVE TO REMOTE INSTRUCTION
All Mount Greylock schools have shifted to all remote learning until at least Dec. 14, according to Superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless.
He said the Mount Greylock Middle/High School in Williamstown, Mass., closed for in-person learning on Wednesday after a student tested positive for COVID-19.
Then on Thursday, the state Department of Health reported that the infection rate in Massachusetts’ Berkshire County was higher than 3 percent. That level of infection tripped a provision in the COVID response plan that was negotiated and agreed on by the administration and faculty that if the county rate goes above 3 percent for 14 days, the schools would go to remote learning. The decision was made shortly after the figures were reported on Thursday evening.
“We decided to close for a week until we see if the numbers have gotten better or worse,” McCandless said.
McCandless said that if the county rate goes below 3 percent before the 14th, schools would reopen on that day.
Otherwise, they will remain in remote learning mode until the rate decreases or until the administration and teachers union renegotiate a new, higher rate of infection to bring students back to school, McCandless noted.
“Or maybe we can agree on new metrics,” he said. “I think we will probably have that conversation.”
In the past three weeks, six students have tested positive for the virus. McCandless said each positive case had unique circumstance and were dealt with accordingly.
McCandless said that in the district’s two member towns, Williamstown and Lanesborough, the infection rate is less than 1 percent and more than 5 percent, respectively.
PITTSFIELD, MASS., SCHOOLS REMAIN CLOSED
With the city surging into “high risk” category for coronavirus infections, Pittsfield Public School officials Friday said they will keep students out of classrooms through at least Dec. 18, and likely won’t shift back to in-person learning until after the holiday break.
“While the impact of an engaging, in-person educational experience cannot be understated, the health and safety of students — and our community — is an overriding factor associated with this decision,” said interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis in an notice posted on the district’s website.
Schools will remain closed “until data shows a decrease in cases over a two-week period that results in a percent positivity rate of 3% or less.” The 14-day average test positivity rate was 5.2 percent as of Wednesday, the most recent data point available on the city’s COVID-19 dashboard.
On Monday, middle and high School Principals will release information about a “schedule enhancement” for all secondary students that will begin on Thursday, Curtis said. He said the district is also “examining a more robust elementary schedule, and academic offerings, moving forward.”
The decision to prolong remote learning comes amid a record surge in coronavirus infections in Pittsfield, the state and the country. While the transmission rate within schools were “low” before the closure, Curtis said it “would undoubtedly rise given the large infection rates currently in our community, if in-person education resumed now.”
MASS. WANTS SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS BACK IN CLASSROOM
The top education official in Massachusetts is urging public school districts in the state’s three largest cities to bring high-needs students back to the classroom for in-person learning.
Jeffrey Riley, commissioner of elementary and secondary education, ordered the Boston, Worcester and Springfield school districts in letters released Friday to submit within 10 days their plans to bring students with disabilities and special needs back to school.
“For these particularly vulnerable groups of students, it is vital to have a plan for providing in-person instruction as soon as possible,” Riley wrote.
Riley did not specify when he would like classrooms to reopen.
Unsatisfactory responses could spark an audit “to assess overall efforts to provide in-person instruction and to ensure your remote learning program is consistent with state and federal laws and regulations,” according to the letter.
Boston is providing in-person learning for fewer than 200 students at four schools, representing less than 1 percent of the more than 51,000 students in the system. Springfield and Worcester do not currently have any in-person instruction, according to the state.
Riley and Gov. Charlie Baker have urged districts to keep students in classrooms even if a community is designated high risk for coronavirus spread. Districts should switch to remote education if there is evidence of in-school spread of the virus, they have said.
Boston has assembled a task force to devise a plan for opening more classrooms to students with significant learning needs but has not released a timeline.
The Worcester School Committee said Thursday it stood by a decision made last month to extend remote education into January so school buildings can be made safer.