St. Johnsbury School reported its first COVID-19 cases of the school year Thursday evening, forcing a shift to remote learning for three homerooms at the PreK-8 school.

“Today we learned of three members of our school family who tested positive for [Coronavirus] due to spread within our community,” announced St. Johnsbury School Superintendent Brian Ricca.

The cases impacted the Kindergarten, 3rd grade and 5th grade, resulting in a complete shift to remote learning for a classroom in each of those grades, as well as other individuals within the school that are considered close contacts.

The cases were felt beyond the school as the St. Johnsbury Rec Department shut down its 5th- and 6th-grade boys soccer program because of close contact assessments.

Ricca said Friday the cases were an example of some of the headwinds facing schools like St. Johnsbury School right now.

“If yesterday is any indication, the Delta variant is incredibly disruptive to the prospect of having children, especially unvaccinated children, in school,” said Ricca. “Since more than three-quarters of our student population is not even eligible to receive the vaccine yet, when there are cases, we will have large numbers of close contacts.”

Ricca said the school nurse and co-principals have already logged long hours dealing with these first cases.

Ricca said he and his team feel like the state should be doing more and prioritizing the safety of children.

“We are doing everything we can to maintain a safe environment for our students. But given the amount of community spread, and the lack of a mask mandate outside of our building, we can not do anything to prevent the disruption of education in our building,” said Ricca. “Yes, our adults will stay safe, if they have chosen to be vaccinated. And our eligible students who have chosen to be vaccinated will also be safe. But we cannot prevent disruption to our learning environment, based on the total population of students in our building.”

Ricca said he would like to see the statewide mask mandate reinstated so there was continuity for the children and the community to ensure the coronavirus spread is limited as possible.

“If our students were only staying in our buildings, we could minimize disruptions. But our students go home, and there are no requirements to mask outside of our building,” said Ricca. “As we know the Delta variant is more transmissible than the original virus, we are preparing for more disruptions to our system until there is a vaccine available for those under the age of 12.”

Joe Fox, director of St. Johnsbury Rec Department, urged those who are eligible but not yet vaccinated to get their vaccination in a letter to families announcing the cancellation of upcoming events. “The best protection for unvaccinated kids is vaccinated adults,” said Fox. “We also recommend masking in public and making sure you stay home when sick.”

NEK Cases

The Northeast Kingdom added 62 cases in the week from last Friday through Thursday, with 7 in Essex County, 26 in Orleans County and 29 in Caledonia County. The regional total now stands at 3,142 cases and 23 deaths.

According to Health Department data, in the last week, at least 17 new people received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Essex County, 252 people in Orleans County and 83 people in Caledonia County. More may have been vaccinated in New Hampshire or elsewhere and not be reported in the state’s vaccination dashboard. Essex County’s vaccination rate is approximately 65%, Orleans 74% and Caledonia County 75.6%.

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