At least 35 positive COVID-19 cases reported in Northshire, mountain towns

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MANCHESTER — The Manchester Town Health Officer has confirmed at least 35 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in the Northshire and the mountain communities since Saturday.

The news was released by the Town of Manchester confirming chatter on social media that had been swirling throughout the community after Manchester Medical Center reported five positive test results Saturday.

Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe said Dr. Thomas Sterling confirmed the positive tests, which came from Saturday through Monday.

Tests have been underway for three days at Manchester Medical Center, the urgent care facility owned by Sterling and his wife, Dr. Janel Kittredge-Sterling.

It was not clear at press time how many tests are pending, but late Monday afternoon, MMC reported 20 patients had been tested who had COVID-19 symptoms.

The positive tests are "regional in nature and not isolated to one community," O'Keefe said, adding that more than half of the cases are from the mountain communities along Route 11 and Route 30.

At an emergency meeting Sunday night, the Londonderry Select Board discussed plans after it was reported a person with the virus had been in town hall.

Londonderry Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie and Town Clerk Kelly Pajala told the board that a person doing research in the town vault on Tuesday, July 7 had tested positive for the virus Sunday and out of an abundance of caution it would be assumed that anyone in the office or at the walk-up window at the time may have been exposed.

In an interview, Pajala said the town office's protocols were in place and worked to prevent any additional spread and a list of those entered the building was kept for contact tracing.

"People who came to the window were never in the building," Pajala said. "The list is short, we've really been trying to help people through that window. I feel good about everything we were doing to be cautious and safe. I made the decision to close the office last night. I think everyone was in agreement that until we have more information and we know that all of our staff is safe and not potentially going to be spreading the virus, we don't let anybody into the building."

Town hall has been closed until further notice. Only Pajala or town treasurer Tina Labeau will be in the office one at a time to continue to do work that needs to be done.

The board considered a vote to close the offices, but Pajala said it was her decision to close the clerk's office and it was Beattie's prerogative to close the rest of the town offices so no vote was required.

In Manchester John O'Keefe reminded people of the town face mask order that requires workers and shoppers in any business in town to wear a cloth face mask. The emergency order was put in place June 3.

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Rep. Kathleen James of Manchester said the Vermont Department of Health provided an update in the late afternoon Monday.

The DOH reported that as of 3 p.m. Monday, it was aware of 30 antigen testing results from Manchester Medical Center.

The agency reported that antigen tests are much quicker but they are not as accurate. For that reason, positive results from antigen tests are considered "presumptive positive cases" and not "confirmed cases," and therefore are not included in state case counts.

A pop-up testing event in Londonderry on Wednesday was complete full by Monday afternoon and James said she was talking to state officials about whether another pop-up testing site was needed in the area.

The Department of Health is working with people who tested positive as if they were confirmed and providing guidance on isolating and contact tracing.

In addition, the department said MMC had continued testing people throughout the day Monday. Most of those tested were asymptomatic, but about 20 people reported COVID-19 symptoms.

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Concern in the area is high.

In Dorset, the owner of the popular Dorset Quarry, which can attract hundreds of swimmers a day, has closed indefinitely. The town of Dorset and Bennington County Sheriff's Department is fencing in the area, putting up signage and warning people that the quarry is closed.

"After receiving the information from Manchester and Health Officer Tom Sterling, the quarry owners have agreed to close the property," the press release said. "We don't have any information about the location or source of the cases as being related to the quarry, so this measure is precautionary at this point."

Many businesses announced changes as a result of the positive tests.

In Manchester, the Northshire Bookstore, Seasons Restaurant, Haig's Sports Bar, Nina's Jewely and Rablogan Castle of Scotland announced changes to their operations.

The Northshire Bookstore announced it will closed Tuesday and Wednesday while it considers its next move.

"Due to a surge in COVID cases, we are closing for a couple of days," the bookstore wrote on Facebook. "Stay safe."

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The post says the bookstore expects to announce its next move by then.

Seasons and Haig's is also closing for the rest of the week but that is so it can get its employees tested.

A Facebook post for Seasons and Haig's said, "We are always concerned about our employees & customers and due to the reported increase of COVID-19 cases in Manchester, we have decided to take the time until all Seasons & Haig's employees can get tested. Per the VT Dept. of Health guidelines and the current use of contact tracing, if or when there is a reason to notify anyone, it will be done so through the proper channels."

In Winhall, the Winhall Market announced an immediate return to curbside service only.

"Unfortunately people are not quarantining and distancing as required by the State of Vermont," the market posted on Facebook.

Sunday, Manchester Medical Center broke the news about the positive tests on its Facebook page where Dr. Janel Kittredge-Sterling posted the news.

"As anticipated, with relaxed guidelines and the sense of security in our well managed Southern Vermont region, positive cases are proving that the virus is very much out there and floating through the community," Kittredge-Sterling wrote.

While being careful not to violate privacy rules such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Kittredge-Sterling did say that those who tested positive were both area residents and people visiting from outside the area.

She also revealed some demographic data, saying four of the five were younger than 55 years of age and two were kids, ages 12 and 13.

Kittredge-Sterling said none of the five required hospitalization.

She said now is the time to be extra careful because the virus can spread rapidly.

"Where there is one case, there will be two, then three, then four and so on with a rapid increase because this virus is so contagious," Kittredge-Sterling said. "Please folks, be so very careful. Physical distance. Masks to prevent respiratory droplet spread. A lot of caution with crowds of any size. And be careful with your kids. We are doing the best we can to keep our community safe. Please do your part."

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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