2nd Orleans County school switches to remote learning

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 5:56 PM EDT
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NEWPORT, Vt. (WCAX) - With COVID cases surging in rural Orleans County over the past two weeks, a second school, Newport City Elementary, has now switched to remote classes.

“We are not able to definitively determine that cases are being transmitted in school but we started to have situations where we can’t rule it out,” said North Country Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle.

Officials say the elementary school will be remote for the rest of the week in order to prevent the spread of the virus among unvaccinated children that spreads to adults. “In some regard, the size of some of our elementary schools and high school - it also becomes an issue of public health to mitigate transmission of the virus,” Castle said.

State health officials say Orleans County has reported 225 new COVID cases in the past two weeks and has the highest active case count per million in Vermont. The Newport development follows the decision to go remote at nearby Derby Elementary last Thursday.

Local health officials point to several possible factors causing the spike. “A surge with additional cases related to Labor Day that also coincides with the return of school -- I think it’s multifactorial in terms of the drivers,” said Justin Barton-Caplin, director of the Vermont Department of Health’s Newport office.

“I can’t pinpoint it to the schools. I can’t pinpoint it if people are congregating because they’ve been pent up for 18 months and it’s like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna take our chance,’” said Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin.

Orleans and Caledonia Counties currently trail the state in vaccinations with rates of 74.6% and 74.2% respectively. Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday said he believed it was the low vaccination numbers that were a primary driver of the case surge in the area.

A vaccination clinic at North Country Union High School aims to help push that rate to 80%. “We really anticipate that we’re really more by 50% and 60%, so by having a clinic we provided an opportunity for students to be able to get vaccinated,” Castle said.

“Those of us who are vaccinated are feeling like we made a very important contribution and we want to keep that up,” Dolgin said. She says fellow community members seem to be cautious and do not think a mask or vaccine mandate is necessary. “We’re a little resistant to go that far but we’re very optimistic that people will use common sense.”

Superintendent Castle wrote in an email to families that they’ll be re-evaluating the remote learning decision on Friday.

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