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Health officials call church outbreak a containment success story

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 6:09 PM EST
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VERGENNES, Vt. (WCAX) - It has been almost four weeks since Christmas and the Vermont Health Department is still monitoring COVID-19 cases from Christmas gatherings.

Much of this has focused on Addison County after an outbreak at the Victory Baptist Church. Some 136 cases were associated with that outbreak, but the state says now it has been contained to only close contacts. Our Ike Bendavid takes a look at the containment success story.

Inside Small City Market in Vergennes, owner Cory Foote says he saw fewer customers in the days following the state’s announcement of an outbreak at the Victory Baptist Church.

“We certainly saw a little bit of a decline in people coming in,” he said.

Foote says his customers just wanted a healthy neighbor.

“What we heard, in at least from passing from customers, was mostly concern for the well-being,” Foote said.

The state says the church hosted three separate Christmas services with a total of 170 people attending. The Health Department says 136 cases resulted from those services.

“In this case, we are really hoping it will be resolved soon because we worked hard to contain within that group,” Vt. Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan said.

Dolan says that the church was following state guidelines for social distancing and attendance in their services. They have worked with contact tracers to contain the spread.

“It’s really those church members and close contacts for the most part,” Dolan said.

She says the case is not closed as the state says an outbreak is contained after two full isolation periods-- four weeks total-- but they say this is an example of successful containment.

“I think so. We stopped at 136 and it was a relatively large event,” Dolan said.

The Victory Baptist Church declined to comment. Parishioners say it’s because of criticism on social media. But Dolan says it’s important to refrain from COVID shaming.

“It doesn’t help to go after our neighbors, our businesses, our churches, our facilities,” Dolan said. “Let’s try to support each other instead because we don’t want to add stigma, we want people to come forward. We want people to tell us where they been so we can contain it. This isn’t about punishment, this is about public health.”

Father Yvon Royer of nearby St. Peter’s Catholic Church says places of faith have been following the rules.

“People have been very cautious. We have tried to do all the protocols and maybe a little bit more,” Royer said.

He says that since the outbreak at Victory Baptist, he has noticed a decline in attendance for his services. But he points to how important some “normal” life activities like church are to people.

“It’s not only the people, it’s also the priests. We are all in the same boat. We realize we need more hugs when we don’t have them,” Royer said.

Back at the market, Foote says Vermonters care about each other and that’s been a positive outcome during these dark times.

“This state has done a wonderful job in maintaining a level of civility and understanding that we are all in this together, we need to work together,” Foote said.

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