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Area schools report a number of COVID cases

ADDISON COUNTY AND BRANDON — All four of the area school districts have reported a few cases of COVID-19 within the past week or so.
Schools in Vermont in general have shown a much lower rate of COVID-19 than the community at large. Many of the cases in the schools were likely transmitted outside of the school.
But education officials continue to take the threat of infection by the coronavirus seriously by limiting numbers of students in school buildings, sanitizing surfaces frequently and requiring social distancing and mask wearing.
Among the recent COVID-19 cases was one in the eighth-grade level at Vergennes Union Middle School that led to the entire class switching to remote instruction this week, according to a Jan. 29 email sent out to Addison Northwest School District families by Superintendent Sheila Soule.
In her email, one of two she sent out late last week, Soule said the infection of an unidentified student or staff member “seems to be an isolated positive case stemming from community exposure.”
But she added teachers were among those who had to be quarantined, leaving the grade level short-staffed:
“There were many more potential close contacts identified during our analysis that led to several staff members needing to be out on quarantine for a period of time. For this reason, we are shifting to remote learning for the 8th grade only for the week of Feb. 1-Feb. 5.”
Soule said everyone — family and staff members — directly affected by the case had already been contacted by school officials before she sent out Friday’s late-afternoon email.
She pledged on Friday that administration and staff would do “everything possible to plan for the support of our students and families during this period of remote learning.”
The case was the third in an ANWSD school since Jan. 10 and the 11th since the district opened in September. The other two district cases this month were both at Vergennes Union Elementary School. None of the previous cases were due to school spread, Soule said.
Meanwhile, schools in the Addison Central School District and Mount Abraham Union High School also reported COVID-19 cases, which seemed to be the result of spread through the broader community, not necessarily within the schools.
Probable and confirmed cases of COVID-19 cropped up last week at schools in Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham. Due to health information disclosure rules, the schools could not say whether the cases were among students, teachers or other staff members.
On Friday morning Principal Heather Raabe of Bingham Memorial Elementary School in Cornwall announced that a member of the school community had a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 and was in school Jan. 25 when considered contagious.
On Tuesday, Raabe reported that the person had tested positive but had not been in school when contagious.
The news came after Middlebury Union High School Principal Justin Campbell on Thursday announced that “a person associated with our school” has tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“We have completed contact tracing and notified all ‘close contacts’ to quarantine,” Campbell said in a Jan. 28 email. “We have been in communication with local and state health officials and all are in agreement that there are no additional restrictions or precautions needed at MUHS.”
Middlebury Union Middle School was hit twice with the disease last week. Interim Principal Andrew Conforti on Jan. 26 said two members of the MUMS community had tested positive, and contact tracing was under way.
Principal Michael Lenox on Jan. 25 said that Shoreham Elementary School also had had one positive COVID-19 case. The school nurse or Vermont Department of Health had reached out to anyone who may have had contact with the patient.
ACSD saw its first cases of COVID-19 in late November during a surge in cases statewide. Since then, the district, which operates nine schools in seven towns, has seen 29 COVID-19 cases.

AT MOUNT ABE & RNESU
A member of the Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School community tested positive for COVID-19, and multiple people were quarantined as close contacts, the school announced on Friday. School officials received word Jan. 26 of a “probable” positive COVID-19 at the Bristol school and began contact tracing the next day, said Mount Abe Principal Shannon Warden.
According to Vermont Department of Health data, Mount Abe has since reported a second case of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 case is the first at Mount Abe, and only the second in the Mount Abraham Unified School District, which operates schools in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro. In November one member of the Robinson Elementary School community in Starksboro tested positive for the disease.
Separately, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Jeanne Collins early this week said that two cases of COVID-19 within the Brandon-area district had not affected education in any way.
“There were limited contacts in both cases,” she said. “The person had been out of school for a number of days prior.”
Collins said one case was within the RNeSU offices and the other was at Neshobe Elementary School. One case was confirmed on Friday, Jan. 29 and the second on Sunday, Jan. 31.
The cases were traced to community events where children who had the virus were visiting from elsewhere, Collins said.
“There was a skating party that involved some kids that were positive but did not go to our schools,” Collins said. “And there was one other community event that we traced to, but we’re aware of this and have been contacting parents and kids alike.”
Editor’s note: This story was reported by several Addison Press staff members.

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