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Upper Valley sports reshuffle as new coronavirus guidelines are issued

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 10/15/2020 6:45:43 PM
Modified: 10/15/2020 6:45:36 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Jeff Acker woke up Wednesday morning with a COVID-19 dilemma. It caught him completely by surprise.

He’ll have Saturday off because of it. The longtime Hartford High girls soccer coach saw a weekend match with Hanover at the Maxfield Sports Complex canceled by a Vermont state government declaration that New Hampshire’s Grafton County is — for at least a week — considered beyond the threshold for quarantine-free travel.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate,” the Hanover resident and 15th-year coach of the Hurricanes said, “but the rules are the rules.”

It’s a sign of a growing number of COVID cases in the Upper Valley, according to one Vermont state government official, and it has put some high school and youth sports authorities on alert.

The border precautions comes as a result of Vermont’s weekly update of its estimated coronavirus caseload map. The state has maintained the map since early June, updating it every Tuesday. Counties in states throughout the Northeast are color-coded to represent their projected caseload levels. Grafton County went from green (fewer than 400 active cases per million people) to yellow (between 400-799 cases) in this week’s update, which reinstated quarantine regulations for non-essential travel, including recreation.

The Vermont Principals Association has been taking its cues for high school sports from Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s administration since the coronavirus pandemic began. VPA schools aren’t permitted to play out-of-state foes from counties that don’t meet the state’s safest caseload standard, which led to the Hartford-Hanover girls soccer cancellation. A Hanover volleyball trip for an outdoor match at Mid Vermont Christian in Quechee also bit the dust Thursday.

The 400-per-million threshold reflected where Vermont counties stood early in the pandemic, according to the person charged with analyzing the numbers.

“When we issued the guidance, we had counties that were anywhere from zero active cases to 200-250 actives per million,” state Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Michael Pieciak explained. “We moved it up to 400 and basically tried to create a standard for additional counties to look like Vermont counties in terms of disease prevalence. The risk is no different than a Vermonter might experience in Windsor County or if you go over to Grafton County.”

The metric employs data from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University and goes beyond strictly confirmed cases, since a COVID-19 victim can spread the illness for a period of time even before being formally diagnosed, Pieciak said. Quarantining restrictions go into place once a county tops the 400-estimated-active-case level.

“Basically, we try not to use ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe,’ ” he said. “It’s about risk management.”

Tuesday’s news led the White River Junction-based Upper Valley Hockey Association to put at least a one-week hold on the start of its youth hockey season.

The UVHA splits its roster nearly evenly between Vermont and New Hampshire residents, president Brock Barton said Thursday. The Granite State half hails from Grafton, Sullivan, Carroll and Merrimack counties; only Carroll and Sullivan meet the 400-case maximum at the moment.

“We want the players to play, the kids want to play, but our goal is to create that safe environment for all families in Vermont and New Hampshire,” Barton said. “At the same time, we’re following county and state guidelines. In the past, it has been a lot easier to do. This creates a little challenge.”

Hanover Hockey Association president Adrienne Peraza has created a COVID subcommittee within the HHA — consisting of two doctors, a lawyer and herself — to focus its attention on the issue “to keep it easy and not involve 12-14 people on a board,” she said. Among the association’s actions is use of the Vermont map to use as a guide for where its teams may travel in the Twin States and beyond this season.

As of Thursday, no teams can play in New Hampshire for at least two weeks: a spate of cases caused New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to issue a two-week halt to all hockey and skating activity in the state.

“It’s obviously a fluid situation, and we’re taking it day by day,” Peraza said. “I feel more confident that we’ve done a good job communicating to our members that we are aware of this and taking it seriously. We want to keep the community safe.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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