Outbreak analyzed: What started with 2 COVID-19 cases at a rink mushroomed to nearly 500 exposures

What started as two known cases of COVID-19 associated with a central Vermont hockey rink has mushroomed to nearly 90 in less than a month, according to state officials.

That math offers a simple takeaway: 

“Such a small event can spark so many cases,” said Michael Pieciak, Vermont’s commissioner of financial regulation, during a news briefing Friday.

The tentacles of that initial outbreak helped spark four others, including 41 cases identified at St. Michael’s College, reached 18 towns across four counties and exposed nearly 500 people to the novel coronavirus, Pieciak explained. 

As is now well known, the first cases resulted from sports leagues at Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center in Montpelier. That prompted Gov. Phil Scott to freeze reservations at skating rinks around the state as contact tracers studied the spread of the virus.

The 87 cases with a direct chain of transmission to those first positive tests now make up more than a quarter (26.5%) of the state’s new cases since Oct. 7, Pieciak said.

More:Gov. Scott order prohibits new reservations at skating rinks due to COVID-19 outbreak

A map and graph show the extent of the cases associated with a COVID-19 outbreak that began at a central Vermont ice rink in early October 2020.

People involved with the first stages of the outbreak had gathered in groups that met state requirements for indoor and outdoor settings, state epidemiologist Dr. Patsy Kelso said, but people were not wearing masks at times.

Additionally, people were not strictly following quarantine rules after travel, she said. 

“Even some people with COVID-19-like symptoms — not diagnosed with COVID-19 —but had symptoms that could’ve been COVID-19 (were) not staying away from others,” Kelso said.

More:Number of COVID cases linked to central Vermont hockey center continues to grow

Kelso also reiterated what state officials have said before: People can infect others with the virus even without showing symptoms — but those that are displaying symptoms have no excuse for exposing others.

“Don’t go to venues or events if you have symptoms. These are things that are going to prevent the spread,” she said. 

Contact Austin Danforth at 651-4851 or edanforth@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @eadanforth.