After previously avoiding a single case of COVID-19, an outbreak of the virus has now hit the Bishop Marshall School in Morrisville.

As of last Friday, five cases had been counted so far at the private Catholic school, with multiple classes in quarantine. The school announced the first two cases Oct. 29 and began allowing students exposed to the virus to return to in-person learning this Monday, pending a negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test.

In the Oct. 29 announcement, the school also announced a pause in group gatherings like weekly Mass and morning assembly.

The outbreak occurred at the school, which educates students from the kindergarten through eighth grade, as the state and Lamoille County have seen an increase in coronavirus cases, but right before the Centers for Disease Control approved a coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11.

“Certainly, with this delta variant, I think that a lot of schools have seen an uptick in activity. Whatever happens in schools is reflective of what’s happening in our local community,” said Carrie Wilson, head of Bishop Marshall.

Cambridge Elementary School has also seen a burst in virus cases; seven in total and two active cases.

Despite their status as a private school that functions outside of the larger school districts in the county, Bishop Marshall has followed similar pandemic health guidelines as their neighboring public schools, requiring students and staff to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“Consistent with what other schools do, we keep our eye on county cases. So, we follow the same protocols that all the local schools do,” Wilson said. “When we are alerted of a positive case, our first step is to immediately reach out to the Vermont Department of Health and follow its guidance to a tee because they are the public health professionals.”

Unlike some area schools, however, Bishop Marshall has found its experience working the department to be a positive one. The school has had no problem managing contract tracing and found the department to be communicative.

“Our experience with the Vermont Department of Health has been very positive,” Wilson said. “What I would also offer to you is that we are just one school, whereas supervisory unions encompass many schools. So, it may have been a little easier for us just knowing that we just have one school to take care of as opposed to several.”

Like Vermont public schools, Bishop Marshall has no vaccine policy, but, according to Wilson, enough of the schools’ staff is vaccinated against COVID-19 that it doesn’t cause them concern.

Though Bishop Marshall is not among the many Lamoille County schools hosting a vaccine clinic specifically for 5 to 11 year olds in the next few months, Wilson encourages the parents of kids attending the private Catholic school to have their children vaccinated as soon as they are able.

“We’re not hosting any clinics,” Wilson said. “However, we are publishing every possible place within a 50-mile radius, because we’re very enthusiastic about this opportunity for our 5 to 11 year olds.

Rising tide

The outbreak at Bishop Marshall comes as cases of COVID-19 rise across Vermont, including in Lamoille County.

Despite its status as one of the most vaccinated counties in the country, with nearly 92 percent of its population vaccinated, case numbers in Lamoille County jumped with the rest of the state.

Around 50 cases were recorded between late September and early October, just before the peak leaf-peeper season. In the last two weeks, the county recorded 137 cases.

Though this number shows a growth in the number of COVID-19 cases, it pales in comparison to the much more populous Chittenden County, which had 640 cases in that time, or even neighboring Orleans County, which saw 340 cases, or Franklin County, which saw 310 cases in the last two weeks.

On Nov. 4, Northern Vermont University announced six new COVID-19 cases at its campus in Lyndon in Caledonia County. The university has seen a total number of 29 cases this year, with 18 on its campus in Johnson and 11 in Lyndon.

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