COVID-19: Spike still slamming school staffing; Woodstock approves mask mandate

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/14/2022 6:40:01 AM
Modified: 1/14/2022 6:39:09 AM

RANDOLPH — The current surge in COVID-19 cases continues to affect Upper Valley schools, shuttering at least one for a full week.

While some area schools have reopened after closing earlier this week, others have had to close or remain closed due to staffing and a shortage of rapid tests. The schools rely on the tests to determine whether students who have been exposed to the virus have become infected and therefore whether or not they can attend school.

Randolph-area schools, schools in the Rivendell Interstate School District and Blue Mountain Union School in Wells River are closed until at least Tuesday.

Blue Mountain, like other members of the Orange East Supervisory Union, first closed on Tuesday of this week. Unlike other members of the supervisory union, Blue Mountain has not yet been able to reopen, Superintendent Emilie Knisley said.

“At this point, approximately a quarter of our staff will not be available tomorrow due to COVID-related absences,” Knisley wrote in a Wednesday message to Blue Mountain families. “This includes absences in key operational, health and safety departments in our building.”

As a result of the prolonged closing, the school canceled midterm exams, and athletics and other activities are on pause through Monday evening. Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was already a planned day off.

School officials hope to resume school on Tuesday morning, but there are no guarantees.

“Thank you for your understanding, your support and your flexibility,” she wrote. “We share your frustration with all that we are faced with as a community at this time.”

Due to a high number of COVID-19 cases and a dearth of testing supplies, Orange Southwest School District has closed all its schools, which include Randolph Union Middle/High School, Randolph Technical Career Center, and elementary schools in Randolph; Brookfield, Vt.; and Braintree, Vt., according to a Wednesday message from Superintendent Layne Millington.

“Our positivity rate is high and climbing in each of our schools, including the technical center; we are down to 14 remaining rapid tests, and we do not expect a resupply until early next week,” Millington wrote.

The district’s COVID-19 response team, which meets daily to review case counts, evaluate probable attendance at each school for the next day and tally the district’s supply of testing kits, plans to meet on Monday to determine which schools will be able to reopen on Tuesday.

“On the positive side, this break may be enough time to allow this surge to peak and begin subsiding before we return,” Millington wrote.

While the Vermont Agency of Education has announced a plan to have families rather than schools test students and employees, Millington said the new protocol still requires that test kits be available.

“Right now, we do not have enough testing supplies to support either the old Test to Stay program or the new (program) given the almost overnight surge in our case counts,” Millington said in a separate message to the community on Wednesday.

The Rivendell Interstate School District, which includes schools in Orford, Fairlee and West Fairlee, that have been closed since Wednesday due to a high number of cases, is offering rapid tests to employees and students who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Tuesday message from Superintendent Barrett Williams. The schools are slated to reopen on Tuesday.

Though Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union, which includes Windsor-area schools, hasn’t had to close schools as a result of this surge, tests are in high demand and staff are busy, said Superintendent David Baker.

“Each building, depending on size, is swabbing between 10 and 50 noses a day for the test-to-stay program,” Baker said.

Staff time will be saved when testing can be done at home under the state’s new program, but WSSU doesn’t have the kits yet for families to test at home, he said.

Amid a surge in cases in Haverhill schools, the school district has opened a free rapid testing site at the Haverhill Cooperative Middle School to students and families, according to a message from SAU 23 Superintendent Laurie Melanson.

As of Thursday, Haverhill had 12 active cases at the middle school and nine each at the elementary and high schools, according to the district’s dashboard.

While supplies last, the testing site is to be open on Friday, Tuesday and Thursday. The testing will take place outside the cafeteria and families will remain in their cars with masks. No appointments are required.

“I hope this is helpful for you and your family as we work through this,” Melanson wrote.

Woodstock requires masks indoors

WOODSTOCK — Face masks are now required indoors in public spaces in Woodstock, following a Tuesday night vote by the Village Trustees.

The trustees instituted the requirement, which will be in effect through Feb. 8, by a vote of 3-2, according to Nikki Nourse, administrative assistant for the Town and Village of Woodstock. Trustees Seton McIlroy, Daphne Lowe and Bill Corson supported the measure, while Trustees Jeffrey Kahn and Brenda Blakeman opposed it.

Woodstock joins several other Upper Valley municipalities that have already enacted local mask mandates, including Hartford, Norwich, Thetford, Pomfret, Lebanon and Hanover.

Lebanon schools update spectator rules

LEBANON — The Lebanon School Board has expanded access to school athletic contests, according to the district’s director of athletics.

Each home player is allowed four spectators per player, Mike Stone, Lebanon’s director of athletics, wrote in a Thursday email. They need not be family members.

In addition, 30 student spectators will be allowed for home games for sports such as basketball and wrestling. Fifteen spots are set aside for freshmen and sophomores; and another 15 for juniors and seniors. Any unclaimed freshmen and sophomore spots will go to juniors and seniors. These students must sign up in the athletic office prior to each home contest on the day of the game.

Lebanon athletes and coaches are required to wear masks over the nose and mouth at all times.

COVID-19 shots available in White River Junction and Claremont

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Vermont Department of Health’s Hartford office is offering COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday and Thursday.

The shots will be available for adults from 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., while shots for children 5 and older are available from 2-4 p.m. at 118 Prospect St. in White River Junction.

Registration is recommended, but walk-ins will be accommodated as supplies allow. Appointments can be made online by visiting https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine or by calling 855-722-7878.

In Claremont, walk-in vaccine clinics for everyone ages 5 and older are scheduled for Jan. 21 and 26.

The Jan. 21 clinic is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Claremont Soup Kitchen at 53 Central St.

The Jan. 26 clinic is scheduled for 3-6 p.m. at the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center at 152 South St.

The Claremont clinics are sponsored by the Greater Sullivan County Public Health Network in partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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