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Health commissioner: Monkeypox in vt.: Rare and mild
Levine: Monkeypox still rare and mild in Vermont

While a case of monkeypox was found in Vermont last week, no other cases have been identified and the virus is not expected to spread as rapidly or as widely as COVID-19 did during the pandemic, according to Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.

Levine said it was also much less likely to be fatal than COVID.

“To put it in perspective, while the level of monkeypox activity in the country is unexpected, the risk to the general population is low and possibly even lower to the Vermont population because there are way more cases in other parts of the country,” he said.

Levine said Vermonters should expect their risk to continue to be low if they avoid sustained physical contact with someone who has monkeypox and shouldn’t fear activities like shaking hands or sitting on a toilet seat “because that’s not how this disease is easily spread.”

“It’s very different than COVID, so it’s hard to draw a lot of analogies. It’s a very different proposition, and it’s something that we would hope, as a country, we can still get under control and prevent going any further,” he said.

Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer and director of hospital medicine at Rutland Regional Medical Center, said the most important thing local residents should know is that the medical community in the Rutland County area is aware of the identification of the illness.

“It’s very rare in Vermont. We only know of one case that has tested positive (but) it’s important that our medical professionals in the emergency department, in our hospitals, in our outpatient centers, are aware of the symptoms, what it looks like and try to test for it so they can appropriately recommend quarantine, testing and, in some cases, treatment,” he said.

Levine said tecovirimat (Tpoxx) the drug used to treat monkeypox, is available but said the drug is not plentiful.

There is a vaccine available for people who are at high risk, primarily because of exposure to someone with monkeypox, but Levine said only a small amount is available in Vermont because there are not many cases.

The vaccine has been used for smallpox, and while Levine said medical professionals expect it to work on monkeypox as well, he said the “real world effectiveness of it in the current context” is not completely known.

He explained that monkeypox, which health care professionals are encouraging people to call, “hMPXV,” is a viral infection that Levine said was in the same family as smallpox but “clearly not as serious” and has only recently been seen in greater numbers in America.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were about 7,100 cases of monkeypox in the United States as of Thursday. Numbers in Northern New England remain low with one case in Vermont, two in Maine and 14 in New Hampshire. In New York, however, there were almost 1,750 reported cases.

The federal government declared a public health emergency on Thursday in response to the monkeypox outbreak, according to the Associated Press.

Levine said a person with monkeypox will often initially feel as if they have a flu-like illness and suffer fever, swelling of lymph nodes and aches. But under the current outbreak, many people may bypass the flu-like symptoms and just see skin lesions, which Levine said were “really a rash on the face and on the body.” They can begin as pimples or blisters but become raw, ulcerated lesions which can be very painful.

Comparing monkeypox to COVID, Levine said COVID was almost entirely spread through respiration and therefore, spread through the population quickly and in large numbers.

“This disease (monkeypox) should be rather hard to get because it requires prolonged skin-to-skin contact and can be transmitted through bedding material or clothing. It can be transmitted through respiratory contact but, that’s probably less than 1% of the cases because you have to have prolonged face-to-face contact for that to occur,” he said.

The population among whom the disease is having the most effect is men who have sex with men, especially if there are multiple partners involved or through an event during which many people can be in contact for an extended period of time like a “rave” dance party.

While safe sex was recommended as a way to slow the spread of HIV during the worst of the AIDS epidemic, Levine said the lesions on the body of someone who has monkeypox can be widespread.

“The thing that’s going to help the most — and it requires trusted resources like our health department, like our team that have traditionally dealt with this population of higher risk individuals — is trying to influence their behavior now. And when I say, ‘now,’ it’s really being viewed as now and not forever. Right now, this is not the time to be going to clubs or raves or parties that involve a lot of anonymous contact,” he said.

The Vermont health care community has “very good channels of communication” and partnerships with the community of men who have sex with men, according to Levine, which he said he hopes will allow greater opportunities for education and support.

Levine said it could be a “hard sell” to people who would ask if they’re being asked to change their lives forever but said this was the time to take action because the number of cases in the United States just went up 40% last week. The only way to deter an outbreak is to reduce its ability to spread, Levine said.

“It’s time to be much more restrictive and choose wisely in terms of events that you associate with and that you might become intimate with,” he said.

Levine said there were some parallels between COVID and monkeypox, noting there was a test for both, there was identification of what population was most at risk and there was a vaccine, which was not necessarily available or appropriate for everyone, but available for those at the greatest risk.

Hildebrant recommended that a patient who believes they have monkeypox or have been exposed to the virus contact their health care provider to get more advice, but said if the patient is feeling any symptoms such as difficulty breathing, get to the nearest emergency department. A person who knows they’ve been exposed to monkeypox should be tested, Hildebrant added, especially if they have lesions or pustules.

Levine estimated more than 99% of those who contract monkeypox will recover and few are hospitalized, but most who do get admitted are there for pain management because of the lesions.

For an untreated patient, monkeypox can last two to four weeks but Levine said there are anti-viral medications that can be given to people with a serious case of the virus.

Hildebrant said most patients who are hospitalized for monkeypox are admitted for the purposes of being in isolation. He said he expected there will be some cases in Rutland County at some point in the current outbreak but thought it “exceedingly unlikely” there will be a large number of cases at any given time in Rutland because the disease is uncommon and the symptoms are generally mild.

He added that he believed the medical community in Vermont was ready even after the stresses of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think, if anything, the part of medicine that is engaging, that keeps us excited about coming to work and caring for people is, we can diagnose and treat people with a condition. The thing that was challenging about COVID that I do not anticipate with monkeypox is the change to operations that had to occur. Seeing a clinical diagnosis that you’ve never seen before is in some ways exhilarating for a doctor. They can see how (the disease) acts and make sure the next time someone comes in they can identify it appropriately,” he said.

Levine pointed out that no second case of monkeypox has been identified in more than a week since one case was found in Franklin County, but he added Vermont is not too far from places with higher case counts, like New York City and Montreal.

He said Vermont was not seeing much spread to date, but it was one of the last half-dozen or so states to identify its first case.

“So certainly, the epidemic curve is not changing rapidly in Vermont,” he said.

Hildebrant recommended those with a strong interest check with the CDC website for the latest recommendations, guidance and information.

“Those are evolving rapidly. I will tell you the CDC website has changed dramatically in just the last week in terms of the breadth of information for the public so it really is the best site to go to. They’re updating it regularly to make sure that people are aware of the situation and what they should be doing,” he said.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com


A crew of workers help Ben Graham, second from left, move a bag of Glavel Thursday into a passive solar, super-insulated, earth berm house he is building in East Montpelier. Glavel is a Vermont-made product that uses recycled glass to create a lightweight, thermal insulating layer instead of traditional gravel.

Glavel wrangling


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Montpelier
Two facing federal charges after search warrant executed in Montpelier

MONTPELIER — Officials say two people are facing federal charges after a search warrant was executed Thursday in Montpelier.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Kimberly Kuncz, 53, of Montpelier, has been charged with a felony count of distributing cocaine and Frederick Campbell II, 19, of Detroit, Michigan, has been charged with a felony count of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. Both are expected to appear in U.S. District Court “in the near future” to answer the charges.

According to the statement, the Vermont Drug Task Force and the FBI conducted a controlled buy from Kuncz on June 23 in Berlin. Police then reportedly observed significant drug activity at Kuncz’s residence on George Street in Montpelier.

A search warrant was executed at the home Thursday, according to the statement, where Campbell was seen leaving in a rented Ford F-150. The U.S. Attorney’s office said Campbell was seen speeding by police and was pulled over where police found a loaded handgun in the truck. Campbell also was found with seven grams of cocaine in his possession, according to the release.

The release stated that inside Kuncz’s home, police found 78 grams of suspected cocaine, 2.5 grams of suspected methamphetamine, $2,000 in cash and digital scales.

Those at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as law enforcement officers from Northfield, the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and Capitol Police assisted with the search warrant.

The case is being prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state and local Project Safe Neighborhoods Program, which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts, according to the statement.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com


MaryBeth Zamer and Mike Lewis, the Twangtown Paramours, perform Thursday at the Hunger Mountain Co-op and Montpelier Alive Brown Bag Summer Concert Series at the Christ Church pocket park in Montpelier. This was the first of six consecutive Thursday concerts at noon. Next week will feature Big Hat, No Cattle. For more on the concert series, see the Montpelier Alive preview on page A5.

Concert Series Kicks Off


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A 'Strange Tale' revisited

If you grew up in central Vermont in the 1950s or 1960s, it is likely that you heard the macabre story of “freezing the old folks” that purportedly originated in the town of Calais.

In a nutshell, the strange narrative recalls how, in olden times, it was common practice in this small section of Vermont to freeze the elderly for the winter, thus sparing the family the expense of feeding and caring for those who no longer were able to do so for themselves.

In late spring the hibernating oldsters would be thawed, using a special herbal preparation to assist in their revival.

The tale eventually assumed the status of legend, and usually it was related with the qualifier that it was “absolutely true.”

It is useful to remember that this actually happened nearly 150 ago when assessing the gullibility of generations of Vermonters who believed this bizarre tale of human hibernation.

Perhaps it was made more believable by the fact that the freezing supposedly took place in Calais, a town that saw another bizarre occurrence in 1843, when a congregation of Millerites assembled at the Old West Church on New Year’s Eve to await the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.

Weston Cate noted in “Forever Calais”: “Since the end of the world was coming, the Calais farmers saw no point in harvesting their crops. Some are said to have given away their possessions and abandoned their farms, such was the power of their belief. At five before the hour of midnight the congregation rose and sang ‘Nearer my God to Thee.’ As the clock struck midnight several women screamed.”

“And nothing happened.”

“Quickly one by one and in small groups, the shaken Calaisites left the meetinghouse.”

One delightful element of the “freezing the old folks” story is that the antecedent to The Times Argus (the Argus and Patriot) is primarily responsible for this rural legend, for that is where “A Strange Tale” was first published on Dec. 21, 1887.

It is likely that the story was read with amusement by subscribers to the Argus and Patriot, and it is possible that many knew who the author was, indicated by the initials A.M., as gossip traveled quickly through a small town like Montpelier in the 1880s.

But just over 50 years later, in 1938, Bob Tuckman, a reporter for the Rutland Herald, found an unsourced clipping of the original piece in a scrapbook that was owned by Elbert Stevens formerly of Bridgewater Corners. When Tuckman found Stevens, he was living in Rutland. His mother had compiled the scrapbook many years earlier.

Tuckman’s feature story about the clipping attracted a great amount of attention, and subsequent versions appeared in other newspapers, including The Boston Globe, as well as Yankee Magazine, The Old Farmer’s Almanac of 1943, and Charles Crane’s book “Winter in Vermont” (1941). Crane often read the narrative over the air for a central Vermont radio station. Over the next several years, the Rutland Herald received many inquiries regarding the veracity of the tale.

Finally, in 1949, author and occasional Vermont resident Roland Robbins rolled up his sleeves and dug into the massive collection of old Vermont newspapers at the State Library in Montpelier. Using the type font and visual similarities as a guide determined that it had been in published in Montpelier’s Argus and Patriot.

Robbins eventually found the original column from 1887. He was surprised to find that the 1,200-word article had elicited no published reaction from the readers of the Argus and Patriot, but when it was reprinted in several publications many years later, the response was overwhelming.

Robbins noted that Charles Crane’s version appearing in “Winter in Vermont” resulted in a flurry of letters from many different states to the mayor of Montpelier seeking more information about the tale.

Robbins’s 1949 article for Vermont Life had a similar impact, and resulted in unraveling the mystery that had shrouded “A Strange Tale” for several decades.

In due course, he heard from Mabel Hynes, who explained how an anonymous story of 1,200 words published more than 60 years earlier had caused such a furor.

Hynes declared that her grandfather Allen Morse authored the ghoulish story, and her mother was responsible for its appearance in the Argus.

Although Allen Morse was born in Woodbury in 1835, his family moved to Calais by 1840, according Roland Robbins who unearthed the history of the bizarre hoax in 1952. Morse lived much of his life near the Old West Church, where he served for many years as sexton.

A farmer, Morse was well-known as a storyteller and often entertained the assembled throngs at family reunions and other gatherings where repeated recitations of the same tale honed the story to the point that it assumed the character of a well-crafted narrative.

His hibernation tale begins in a classic mode that reminds one of Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson, or other masters of the genre.

It is a well-constructed and delightfully creepy story that might make one ask how did a Calais farmer write such compelling narrative? In addition to telling stories, Allen Morse wrote articles for various publications. According to his granddaughter, Mabel Hynes, he contributed stories to New England Homestead magazine. In a 1952 interview with Roland Robbins, she recalled, “He was a dairy farmer and, at one time, a notary public. He had four children, the oldest being my mother, Alice May. He owned the first Howe sewing machine to go into the north, and put it to profitable use by doing stitching, charging 10 cents per yard. Allen Morse had one of the first pump organs in his community. Because of this, neighbors would gather at his home for ‘singing school.’ Another form of evening entertainment was ‘yarning,’ or the telling of stories. ... I was 10 years old when grandfather Morse told me his story about freezing Vermonters for the winter.”

It was the custom in the Morse family to have an annual picnic each August. Mable recalled, “after plenty of good food and merriment the men-folk would go into their story telling.”

As a finale, Allen Morse “took over and dramatically told his fascinating story of Vermonters hibernating their elderly and sickly members during the winter months, because food was scarce and they couldn’t earn their keep.”

“In time this became Grandfather’s favorite yarn and he related it many times. Each time it was told something new would be added, or changes made to make it sound more weird and strange,” she noted. “By the time Grandfather got around to writing out his story and entitling it A Strange Tale by A.M., it was years after he had dreamed it up and had rel ated it for the first time.”

Mable’s mother, Alice May, attended school in Montpelier and then worked from 1879-1888 for the Argus and Patriot as a typesetter. As a surprise for her father Allen’s 52nd birthday on Dec. 21, 1887, she published “A Strange Tale” on the front page.

Here it appears in its entirety.

A Strange Tale by A.M.“I am an old man now and have seen some strange sights in the course of a roving life in foreign lands as well as in this country, but none so strange as one I found in an old diary kept by my uncle William that came into my possession a few years ago at his decease.”

“The events described took place in a mountain town some twenty miles from Montpelier, the capital of Vermont. I have been to the place on the mountain and seen the old log house where the events I found recorded in the diary took place and seen and talked with an old man who vouched for the truth of the story and that his father was one of the parties operated on ....”

“The account runs in this wise – Jan.7- I went on the Mountain today and witnessed what to me was a horrible sight. It seems that the dwellers there who are unable either from age or other reasons to contribute to the support of their families are disposed in the winter in a manner that will shock the one who reads this diary unless that person lives in the vicinity.”

“I will describe what I saw. Six persons, four men and two women, the man a cripple about thirty years old, the other five past the age of usefulness, lay on the earthy floor of the cabin drugged into insensibility, while the members of the families were gather about them in apparent indifference. In a short time the unconscious bodies were inspected by several old people who said, ‘They are ready.’ They were then stripped of all their clothing except for a single garment. Then the bodies were carried outside and laid on logs exposed to the bitter cold mountain air, the operation having been delayed several days for suitable weather.”

“It was night when the bodies were carried out and the full moon occasionally obscured by flying clouds, shone on their upturned, ghastly faces and a horrible fascination kept me by the bodies as long as I could endure the severe cold. Soon I could stand the cold no longer and went inside, where I found the friends in cheerful conversation. In about an hour I went out and looked at the bodies. They were fast freezing.”

“Again I went inside where the men were smoking their clay pipes but silence had fallen on them. Perhaps they were thinking of the time when their time would come to be carried out, for in the same way, one by one they at last lay down on the floor and went to sleep. I could not shut out the sight of their freezing bodies outside, neither could I bear to be in darkness, but I piled on the wood in the cavernous fireplace and seated on a shingle block passed the dreary night.”

“January 8- Day came at length but did not dissipate the terror that filled me. The frozen bodies became visibly white on the snow that lay in huge drifts about them. The women gathered about the fire and soon commenced preparing breakfast. The men awoke and conversation began commencing, affairs assumed a more cheerful aspect.”

“After breakfast the men lighted their pipes and some of them took a yoke of oxen and went off toward the forest, while other proceeded to nail together boards making a box about ten feet long and half as high and wide. When this was completed they place about two feet of straw in the bottom. Then they laid three frozen bodies in the straw. Then the faces and upper part of the bodies were covered with a cloth; the more straw was put in the box and the other three bodies placed on top, and covered the same as the first ones, with cloth and straw.”

“Boards were then firmly nailed on top to protect the bodies from being injured by carnivorous animals that made their home on these mountains. By this time the men who went off with the ox team returned with a huge load of spruce and hemlock boughs which they unloaded at the foot of a steep ledge, came to the house and loaded the box containing the bodies on the sled and drew it to the foot of the ledge near the load of boughs.”

“These were soon piled on and around the box and it was left to be covered with snow which I was told would lay in drifts twenty feet deep over this rude tomb. ‘We shall want our men to plant our corn next Spring,’ said a youngish looking woman, the wife of one of the frozen men, ‘and if you want to see them resuscitated, you come here about the tenth of next May.’”

“With this agreement I left the mountaineers, living and frozen to their fate and returned to my home in Boston where it was weeks before I was fairly myself, as my thoughts would return to that mountain with its awful sepulchre.”

“Turning the leaves of the diary, the old man recounts he came to the following entry: May 10 – I arrived here at ten a.m. after riding about four hours over muddy, unsettled roads. The weather here is warm and pleasant, most of the snow is gone except here and there are drifts in the fence corners and hollows. But nature is not yet dressed in green.”

“I found the same parties here I left last January ready to disinter the bodies of their friends. I had no expectation of finding any life there, but a feeling that I could not resist impelled me to come and see.”

“We repaired at once to the well remembered spot at the ledge. The snow had melted from the top of the brush, but still lay deep around the bottom of the pile. The men commenced work at once, some shoveling, and others tearing away the brush. Soon the box was visible. The cover was taken off, the layers of straw removed and the bodies, frozen and apparently life less, lifted out and laid on the snow.”

“Large troughs made out of hemlock logs were placed nearby filled with tepid water, into which the bodies were placed separately with the head slightly raised. Boiling water was then poured into the trough from kettles hung on poles nearby until the water was as hot as I could hold my hand in. Hemlock boughs had been put in the boiling water in such quantities that they had given the water the color of wine.”

“After lying in the bath about an hour, color began to return to the bodies, when all hands began rubbing and chafing them. This continued about an hour when a slight twitching of the muscles of the face and limbs, followed by audible gasps showed that life was not quenched and that vitality was returning.”

“Spirits were given in small quantities and allowed to trickle down their throats. Soon they could swallow and more was given to them when their eyes opened and they began to talk, and finally sat up in their bath tubs.”

“They were taken out and assisted to the house where after a hearty meal they seemed as well as ever, and in no wise injured, but rather refreshed by their long sleep of four months. Truly, truth is stranger than fiction.”

Paul Heller is a writer and historian from Barre.


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