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Hartford High reports COVID case

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 2:08:43 PM
Modified: 9/14/2020 9:13:02 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A student at Hartford High School has tested positive for COVID-19, school Superintendent Tom DeBalsi told the school community in a pair of letters on Sunday, but state health officials said the case was sufficiently isolated that school could proceed as planned on Monday.

“The professionals we consulted with from the Department of Health reviewed the potential risk factors for others at the high school that may have come into contact with the student who tested positive,” DeBalsi wrote in a letter to the school community Sunday evening. “Based on this review, the Department of Health did not identify any ongoing risk or any need for further intervention or contact tracing at this time. They also indicated that the strategies that we have in place, including our hybrid schedule that allows for our students to be physically distanced in our classrooms, greatly minimize the risk for close contact, as they define it.”

In an email and a subsequent interview withValley News, DeBalsi said that the school’s hybrid plan means only half of its 500 students are on campus at once, allowing for plenty of physical distance. The school’s re-opening preparations also included widening hallways by removing lockers and making hallways one-way, to cut down on incidental contact.

“The state has assured us that no new measures are warranted,” DeBalsi said Monday. “If anything was suggested we would implement it immediately.”

DeBalsi’s communications to the school community furnish a timeline: The school district learned of the positive test on Saturday evening. The student’s physician reported the positive test to the Vermont Department of Health.

The school was “cleaned and disinfected … per Health Department guidance.”

School officials spoke with state health officials in a conference call Sunday “to make sure we had done everything possible to provide for the safety of our students and staff and to plan for any additional steps we should take as students and staff returned to school (on Monday).”

It is unclear whether the state has ordered anyone else to self-isolate as a result of tracing people who were in contact with the student. Health care and school privacy laws shield the student’s identity, but state health officials are investigating whether anyone else is at risk. If other people have been told to quarantine, the school might not know right away.

“We do not handle the quarantines,” DeBalsi said an email Monday. “The Department of Health handles the contact tracing and notifies those they think may be at risk.”

Further, state officials said that because of the school’s protocols, there was likely no need to follow up with other students or staff, DeBalsi said. “When we spoke to them at length Sunday afternoon, they didn’t indicate that anyone that we mentioned from classes should be cause for concern,” he said in a phone interview Monday. There were no subsequent cases reported to school officials Monday.

“Where they get concerned is when anybody is within six feet for longer than 20 minutes without a mask,” DeBalsi said.

DeBalsi urged the school community to “stay vigilant in our social distancing, wearing cloth face masks and having staff and students with any symptoms stay home.”

“While we certainly had hoped, for many reasons, not to have a positive test, this was not unanticipated,” DeBalsi wrote. “We have followed the Department of Health guidelines in our planning and have followed their protocols over the weekend. We hope that this follow-up email provides some comfort for those who we know are anxious.”

Hartford High is not the only Vermont school to report a case of COVID -19 over the weekend.

Crossett Brook Middle School, in Duxbury, moved to remote learning this week after two students, a fifth-grader and a seventh-grader, tested positive.

“Due to the number of students and staff that will be required to quarantine, Crossett Brook will not be open for in-person instruction this week,” Harwood Unified Union School District Superintendent Brigid Nease wrote Sunday in an email to the school community.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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