A positive COVID-19 case that popped last weekend eventually led to one local school, the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park, to switch to remote learning for the rest of the week while contact tracing took place.
“Just like schools all across our region, GMTCC and its staff have been preparing for the possibility of a COVID case and the need to go to remote instruction at a moment’s notice by growing our online practices,” Erik Remmers, director at the tech center, said.
Green Mountain Tech serves as the regional tech center for hundreds of students, including all high-schoolers in Lamoille County, plus those that attend Craftsbury Academy and Hazen Union High School in Hardwick.
School officials learned of the positive test Sunday. Tech center students have been learning in person four days a week, with Wednesdays serving as a day of remote learning, but all students had a day of remote learning on Monday as the case was investigated.
School officials have not released information indicating if the person who tested positive was a student or staff member. Lamoille North superintendent Cat Gallagher said she and her staff have been instructed not to release that information, instead saying that they were told to only release the name of the school and to say that it was an “individual in the school community at the tech center.”
School officials have also declined to say when the COVID-positive person was last in the school, or whether the individual came into close contact with other members of the school community.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Remmers said, “The contact tracing process is exhaustive and time intensive in order to ensure no rock has been left unturned or corner unexplored in preventing the spread of the virus.”
With kids from so many towns and communities under one roof, Remmers said the contact tracing process would take longer than initially expected.
Remmers said the goal is for students to return to in-person learning by next Monday, Nov. 16.
Ben Truman, a spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Health, said the decision to go remote or continue in-person learning lies with each school district if and when a positive COVID case appears.
“We don’t say ‘you need to close’ or anything like that,” Truman said. Instead, the department has extensive conversations with a school district and offers recommendations and guidance.
“They know their situation best,” Truman said. With contact tracing still underway Tuesday, state officials can’t say if there’s been further spread in the school or community.
Remmers said the school was able to quickly switch gears to a full week of remote learning without many hiccups.
“Our staff, like teachers and staff all around us, are really doing a great job with this,” Remmers said. “But again, we look forward to having our students back in our building safely next week.”
“We’re really just trying to be cautious, so there’s no risk of further spread,” Remmers said.
Green Mountain Tech undergoes rigorous cleaning on a regular basis as part of its COVID-19 protocol, and Gallagher said that a deep-clean already occurred over the weekend before school officials learned of the positive test.
“That’s normal for us,” she said. Cleaning has been taking place all week.
She said the district’s COVID-19 protocols have earned praise from the health department, and that helps ease the chaos that can come with news of a positive test. Health officials “have told us that we are an exemplar for our standards for safety and following protocols, and that’s really reassuring,” Gallagher said.
“I think people are experiencing some anxiety about this, but they need to know that the Department of Health will contact them if they’re considered a close contact,” Gallagher said. “They make those decisions.”
Truman said that the state is asking people, if they receive a call from the health department’s contact tracing team, to answer the phone.
“Please take the call,” and answer all the questions, Truman said, because contact tracing is “the only way we can stop the virus from spreading.”