The Vermont Department of Health issued an alert Friday afternoon that people who attended Sunday services at New Hope Bible Church in Irasburg on November 22 may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should consider getting tested.

Health officials learned that at least one person attended services Sunday while infectious with COVID-19. While the Health Department has contacted that person, contact tracers have been unable to get all the information they need to inform other people who may have been exposed.

“You may have been in contact with a person who was infectious,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “This is how outbreaks can start and why it’s important for people to cooperate and be forthcoming when our contact tracing teams call.

Ben Truman, Public Health Communication Officer at the Health Department, said the contact tracing team believes more people likely need to be contacted about the potential exposure risk, but the team has not connected with everyone.

The alert issued by the Health Department is a relatively rare announcement for the Vermont Health Department to alert the public about possible exposure risk that was previously used to alert people who may have attended Halloween parties in the center of the state.

“We’ve been having trouble getting all the information that we need - because of that, we put out the press release,” said Truman.

Truman said his understanding that about 120 people attended the service, but not everyone would necessarily be considered a close contact.

“Given the nature of what is an exposure close contact, I don’t think we are talking about everybody,” said Truman. “but because we don’t have all the information - that leaves open the question of how many people we need to reach.”

Truman said church leaders have been responsive to Health Department inquiries, but the epidemiological team felt a public alert was warranted.

“As in all cases, as much assistance as possible is appreciated, and we hope to continue working with them, and more assistance would be appreciated,” said Truman.

A call for comment about the situation to the listed phone number for the church Friday afternoon was not returned as of press time.

Because it can take up to 14 days from the date of exposure to the virus for symptoms to show, the Health Department wants people who attended the Nov. 22 services to take precautions now to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Even if you are feeling well and don’t have symptoms, consider getting tested. If you do have symptoms or concerns about your health, call your primary care provider,” said Dr. Levine.

Testing in Orleans County is available every day with CIC Health at North Country Hospital in Newport. To register or to find other testing sites, go to healthvermont.gov/covid-19/testing.

Recent NEK Cases

The Northeast Kingdom has added 24 cases since Tuesday. Total COVID-19 cases to date stand at 115 in Caledonia, 133 in Orleans, and 35 in Essex. The Health Department has expressed some concern over the recent spike in cases at Orleans County, which stands at 69 cases in the last 14 days, the fifth-highest county in Vermont during that time period.

According to town by town data released by the Health Department last week, there were between 1 and 5 cases in Irasburg as of Nov. 18. The town by town report was not updated this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. All of the towns surrounding Irasburg, as reported on Nov. 18, had between 1 and 5 cases with a few reporting even higher cases, such as 7 cases in Troy, 8 each in Barton and Greensboro, 13 in Derby, and 33 in Newport City. Since that Nov. 18 report, though, Orleans County has added over 40 cases.

The Health Department on Friday reported 99 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 4,005 cases statewide. As the state experiences a steady increase in cases, Vermonters are strongly urged to avoid unnecessary travel, including for the upcoming holidays, and avoid social gatherings with people you do not live with. Here is information about the current guidelines for gatherings.

For testing and more information about COVID-19, visit healthvermont.gov/covid19.

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