COVID becoming more visible in Addison County

MARY 'PAT' BROWN of Bristol died after a short battle with COVID-19 last week.

“Whoever the person is (who tested positive for COVID-19), it’s probably someone you know. You might not know what their name is, but you know them.”
— Angelita Pena

ADDISON COUNTY — After a short battle with COVID-19, Mary “Pat” Brown — mother of six, member of Bristol’s St. Ambrose Catholic Church, retired Registered Nurse — died on Friday at age 79.
“Her loss weighs heavy on us, with the worst part being that we couldn’t be with her as she struggled to fight this awful virus,” her family wrote in a letter to Gov. Phil Scott. “Our family feels that these deaths (from COVID-19) need to have names attached to them,” they continued. “Maybe, just maybe, it will spark even one person to do better and to try harder to follow (public health) guidelines for their loved ones and community. This is what would give our family comfort.”
Scott quoted from the letter at the opening of his Nov. 24 press conference.
“My heart goes out to the Brown family, and the families, friends and caretakers of all those we’ve lost,” Scott said. “This is a tragic reminder of why we’re doing what we’re doing, and of why we’re continuing to ask Vermonters to sacrifice to slow the spread of the virus, protect the vulnerable and to keep families, like Mary Pat’s, whole.”
As of Wednesday, 64 Vermonters have died from COVID-19.
Scott appreciated the Browns’ willingness to share their story, he said.
“Because these deaths are not just numbers. They’re people who loved their families, who contributed to their communities, and are no longer with us.”
Hoping to prevent more such tragedies, Gov. Scott last week announced tightened public health restrictions designed to prevent widespread community transmission of the disease, including:
• Prohibiting multi-household gatherings, indoors and outdoors, including for Thanksgiving.
• Closing bars and social clubs for in-person service.
• Reducing restaurant hours.
• Requiring businesses to keep logs for contact tracing.
• Postponing recreational sports indefinitely.
On Tuesday Scott announced that the start of winter high school sports practices would also be postponed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to surge in Vermont, though daily new-case counts have declined from the records set earlier this month.
The state recorded 81 new cases on Wednesday, for a total of 3,827 since the pandemic began. Currently 29 people are hospitalized around the Vermont, five of them in intensive care.
Addison County reported two new cases on Tuesday but none on Wednesday, reducing its 14-day rolling total slightly, from 31 to 28.
The Brown family’s loss, and the hopes they manifest by speaking out about it, highlight the ongoing tension between personal privacy and public awareness that has often proved challenging to navigate during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury and Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro reported cases of COVID-19 — the first known cases recorded in Addison County schools. In both instances school district officials declined to specify whether the patients were students, staff or other members of the learning community.
“Thank you for understanding that, due to medical privacy laws, we are not able to release the name of the individual with COVID-19,” wrote Addison Central School District Superintendent Peter Burrows regarding the Mary Hogan case.
Similarly, state health officials have refused to release any but the broadest-brush geographic data, which they rarely keep current. (The last update to the state’s town-by-town COVID-19 data was posted Nov. 18 and officials don’t plan to update it again until Dec. 4.)
Still, as Mount Abraham Union High School 10th-grader Angelita Pena told the Independent Wednesday morning, “Whoever the person is (who tested positive), it’s probably someone you know. You might not know what their name is, but you know them.”
Later that morning, a Mary Hogan parent publicly expressed frustration about not being able to get a COVID test for their child, who had been exposed to a COVID-positive person at the school and who had developed symptoms of the disease.
(Update: On Friday, Nov. 27, the ACSD announced a second case of COVID-19 in the district–an employee in the central office.)
Across town, Middlebury College closed its campus, as scheduled, on Nov. 21, sending students home to complete their semesters remotely.
But on the eve of Thanksgiving, two students remained in campus isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 the week before, and 18 other students, considered “close contacts,” were under quarantine.
“If a student doesn’t develop symptoms, they can test out of quarantine once we have a negative test on or after day 7 or if the Vermont Department of Health has determined through contact tracing that the individuals who were quarantining as a precaution were not close contacts,” explained college spokesperson Sarah Ray in an email to the Independent. “Students must remain in quarantine until their test results are available. If they develop symptoms, they will move to isolation. Isolation usually lasts about 10 days but can last longer. No student can leave isolation until they are medically cleared.”
In the Addison Northwest School District, officials implored members of the learning community to follow state guidelines on traveling and to avoid large family and social gatherings over the holidays. At the same time they were taking steps to prepare for the possibility that a post-Thanksgiving surge would force schools to transition to all-remote learning.
“It won’t take much to put us in a situation where it’s difficult for us to open,” ANWSD Superintendent Sheila Soule told the school board on Nov. 16.
(Update: On Nov. 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Soule announced that two members of the ANWSD learning community had tested positive for COVID-19.)
“These cases occurred outside of the time the individuals were in school and therefore no one in our schools is considered to be a ‘close contact,'” Soule wrote. “These individuals are following their physician’s orders and will not return to school until it is safe to do so.”On Tuesday state health officials warned that Vermont could see more than 3,000 new infections, and could more than double the number of hospitalizations if residents fail to observe gathering and travel restrictions.
School districts will have the option of surveying students about their holiday activities, as part of the required screening process, and to require any student who participated in multi-household gatherings to undergo quarantine before returning to in-person learning.
The Mount Abraham Unified School District has chosen not to go that route, Superintendent Patrick Reen told district residents on Wednesday.
MAUSD parent and Monkton selectboard member John McNerney panned the decision.
“My initial reaction is that I am NOT happy about this,” he told Reen in an email obtained by the Independent. “We are following the Governor’s guidance regarding avoiding multi-household gatherings. We are now debating whether to keep our daughter home for two weeks after the Thanksgiving break until we see how things settle out.”
She loved spending holidays with her family. And she loved crocheting, funny jokes, sweets, car rides and playing board games, her family said.
She is survived by her six children, Christopher Brown, Elizabeth Herriman, Michael Brown, Denise Cousino, Matthew Brown and Mary Buxton and their children and loved ones.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Monday morning to reflect the two new positive cases announced in the Addison Northwest School District, and the second case announced in the Addison Central School District.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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