With the Omicron variant surging and Vermont reporting as many as nearly 2,200 cases in a single day, there have been a lot of changes to Agency of Education and the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) guidelines over the past week, including a district-wide school closure on January 11 due to cold weather, staffing, busing and COVID.
Late last week the Agency of Education announced new guidelines calling for schools to cease contact tracing in Vermont schools and cease surveillance PCR testing. Everyone in a classroom where a student tests positive for COVID will be considered a close contact. “It was clear we were going to have to make some adjustments,” Secretary Dan French said at this week’s press conference on January 11. “Contact and surveillance testing are not as effective” to combat Omicron, he said. Students and staff exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will be tested at school. The school will continue to offer a limited number of rapid antigen tests to staff and students who test positive in order to end quarantine.
In a January 9 letter from HUUSD Superintendent Brigid Nease this week, she noted that from the months of August through November, HUUSD had 37 total positive COVID cases in staff and students. In December, 107 cases were reported, though the actual number may be higher since schools were on break, and from January 1-7, in one week 38 tested positive in HUUSD schools. Of the 38 positive cases at close of day Friday, January 7, 2022, five were staff and 33 students. Twenty-three in total were infectious while at school.
While guidance for winter sports announced in December stated that spectators would be permitted at winter sporting events, the guidance also stated the policy was subject to change. Last week, the HUUSD athletic department announced spectators would not be allowed. A few days later, the guidance was updated to the following:
“As of January 10, limited spectators will be allowed into our indoor events this winter. Each student-athlete will be allowed to have up to four people from their family come to the games. These tickets are for family members only. The names will be collected via Google Sheets that will be distributed through the coaching staff. Masks will remain on at all times, unless eating/drinking in the designated eating area. There will be no food or drink allowed in the gym/rink during games. Attendees will be respectful and leave space between their family and others.”
“The change in our spectator policy is made due to the recent case numbers rising generally,” HUUSD athletic director Chris Langevin said. “By limiting spectators, there will be more space for fans to spread out, with their masks on, to safely watch the games.”
“Sports without spectators is a bit shocking when you first do it,” he added. “Last year, it was much quieter and never had the feel of a true game day. Our first game this year without spectators was our boys’ basketball game last Wednesday vs. Lyndon Institute. It was still shocking just how quiet that gym can get without spectators, but it just never truly feels the same, and I think the athletes and coaches notice that, too. So, I think even returning to limited spectators, with families being able to attend, is good for our athletes. They can still have people there to cheer them on in the crucial moments and give them that extra little bit they may need when tired to close out a game and be victorious.”