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"Glitch" drives up COVID reporting

Vermont’s largest one-day total of COVID cases was actually for more than one day, state officials said Thursday.

The Vermont Department of Health reported 314 cases on Thursday, but said an “IT glitch” delayed the delivery of previous test results, inflating the Thursday number. Department of Health representative Bennet Truman said Thursday afternoon that they had yet to figure out how many cases belonged in the Thursday count and how many should have been reported on other days.

“We don’t yet have details about the number of reports involved,” Truman wrote in an email. “We’re still working to confirm the impact the glitch had, and to what extent. We will provide that information.”

John Quinn, the state’s chief information officer, said the cause of the glitch was still being determined.

“We noticed an increase in collection of specimens starting on the 9th,” he said. “It was about the 13th when we noticed the elongated turnaround time.”

Quinn said the software vendor, the New Jersey-based ELLKAY, patched the system and was working with the state to figure out what went wrong.

“That’s what we know at this point,” Quinn said. “Fortunately, the patch they put in worked, and now we’re seeing results come in much faster.”

ELLKAY didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry late Thursday afternoon.

Rutland County’s 14-day total stood at 246 cases Thursday afternoon. Washington County had 307. The state reports 42 COVID patients are hospitalized, 10 in an ICU. Vermont’s death toll from the pandemic stands at 294.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health website reports that 87.1% of Vermonters who are 12 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine and that 77.8% have completed their vaccinations.

gordon.dritschilo @rutlandherald.com

EMTs and firefighters lift the driver of a car involved in a crash out of the wreck. A Masterson Excavation truck traveling south on Route 100 hit a blue car traveling north on Route 100. Witnesses said the blue car drifted into the truck’s southbound lane.

Waterbury Crash

Berlin students 'learning from home' due to fresh COVID cases

BERLIN — For the second time in a school year that is barely four-weeks old students at one of the Washington Central Unified Union School District’s five elementary schools are now “learning from home.”

This time it is Berlin Elementary School where multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19 prompted an administrative decision to send all of the school’s students home early on Wednesday.

That’s where Acting Superintendent Jennifer Miller-Arsenault said they were scheduled to learn — synchronously and asynchronously — on Thursday and again today before returning to their classrooms next week.

“The hope is for everybody to be back on Monday,” Miller-Arsenault said Thursday, suggesting that decision will hinge on the timely availability of test results and developments that might occur over the weekend.

Miller-Arsenault said three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the pre-K-6 school prompted a ratcheted up response during a week that began with the school’s third- and fourth-graders “learning from home” while the rest of the school was in session.

According to Miller-Arsenault, a single confirmed COVID case that potentially exposed third- and fourth-graders drove the decision to quarantine those students without shuttering the school.

Because more than half the school’s students were in attendance Monday, Tuesday and enough of Wednesday, those days will all count toward the 175-day statutory minimum. However, barring a state-approved waiver, Thursday and today will not.

Miller-Arsenault, who has ditched the term “remote learning” in favor of “learning from home,” said she knows that. So does School Board Chair Flor Diaz-Smith, who said Thursday she was consulted on a decision that was driven by a rising case count and a belief learning could continue while students were at home.

“Our No. 1 priority is our students and we know to have them engaged is the most important thing,” she said.

Miller-Arsenault said the district is documenting attendance, after learning plans and providing meals to students in the event a waiver is eventually requested.

According to a memo issued Wednesday afternoon by Principal Aaron Boynton, the school’s third- through sixth-graders were issued computing devices to facilitate their learning Thursday, today and into next week if necessary. Preschool through second-grade students were sent home with “emergency packets.”

“Teachers will also reach out and connect with all students during this time,” Boynton wrote.

The suspension of in-person instruction in Berlin mirrors what happened at East Montpelier Elementary School when multiple confirmed cases prompted a similar decision in the run up to Labor Day weekend.

The school in East Montpelier was closed and students learned from home for four days because of two confirmed cases, which involved 38 children who were deemed “close contacts.” Those children, Miller-Arsenault explained at the time, had 19 sibling — potentially impacting 10 separate staff members and all but one of the classrooms at the pre-K-6 school.

The situation in Berlin was slightly different to start. It went from manageable on Monday when one combined class of third- and fourth graders was affected — to problematic on Wednesday when some parents were summoned to pick up their children and school was dismissed early.

By mid-afternoon the decision was made to shift to “learning from home” for the rest of the week — a fact that was relayed in Boynton’s memo.

“We hope to welcome our students back to the building on Monday,” he wrote, suggesting that would “… depend on the availability of test results” from the state Department of Health.

“We will keep you posted on this!” he wrote.

As was the case in East Montpelier earlier this month, the disruption didn’t affect any of the other five elementary schools, or U-32 Middle and High School. Pre-K-6 students in Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester were all in school this week, as were the vast majority of 7-12 students — many of them vaccinated — at U-32.

Diaz-Smith said there have been three confirmed COVID cases at U-32 — one last week, a second on Monday and a third on Wednesday — but they haven’t required a significant number of students to quarantine.

At least one of Wednesday’s four confirmed cases — one at U-32 and three at Berlin — was detected during voluntary “surveillance testing” that was launched for the district’s students and staff on Monday.

According to Miller-Arsenault, there were 437 people tested across the five-town, six-school district on Monday and the results revealed one positive case. The voluntary testing will be offered to students five and older and staff every Monday.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Going, going ... Art Splash-ending auction set for Saturday

BARRE — Karl Rinker insists the “Barre Art Splash” won’t be a belly flop even if none of the creative and quirky pieces — from cats and dogs to cars and coupes — sell at Saturday’s auction.

Rinker has declared victory on the eve of the auction that will be held at the Vermont Granite Museum on Saturday afternoon. The one that will determine just how much money the project, which had heads turning and tongues wagging in downtown Barre throughout the summer, raises for the local Rotary Club.

“That’s the big question,” Rinker said, while taking a break from raking out the horseshoe pits at his East Barre home on Thursday.

Heading into the auction Rinker said there is no where to go but up.

Every penny raised thus far — from sponsorships to T-shirt sales — was plowed into getting the pricey project off the ground and promoting the heck out of it.

The auction was — and is — supposed to be the payoff and Rinker is quietly confident some of the 37 pieces will sell for tidy sums and hopeful most, if not all, will bring in at least $500.

That’s the minimum bid and St. Johnsbury auctioneer Eric Hudson has been instructed not to budge from it even if it means Rinker has to store some — even many — of the one-of-a-kind pieces in his garage.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” said the man, who until the end of Saturday’s auction is a mix between a humane society executive director and a used-car salesman.

Rinker is hoping to find “forever homes” for 15 distinctively decorated dogs and cats while finding buyers for 22 fiberglass race cars. The latter are an even mix of late model race cars — think Jason Corliss and Gov. Phil Scott — and 1932 Ford three-window coupes, like the life-sized version that will be parked in the granite museum during the auction.

Owned by Lloyd Hutchins, the old “Deuce Coupe” was used to create the mold needed to make some of the cars that spent the summer on the sidewalk in downtown Barre.

It was all part of a plan that took years to come together and a script that was written when COVID cases were dropping.

Cases aren’t dropping any more and while Rinker will be throwing open the doors of the granite museum and handing out masks to those who want them on Saturday, there is no changing the timing of the auction that was fixed many months ago.

Rinker has the spacious museum building going for him, and he’s sought to accommodate those uncomfortable or unable to attend the $20-per-person event by creating a couple of options.

Downloadable forms that are available at barrevtrotary.org/page/barre-art-splash allow for “off premise bidding” and virtual attendance.

The former authorizes a stand-in bidder to bid up to a specified amount for the sought-after piece, the latter will allow participants to attend the event via Zoom on a 72-inch flat-screen television.

“It’s not perfect, it will work,” said Rinker, who has already heard from five off-premise bidders, including some willing to pay far more than the $500 minimum bid to land the piece that they covet.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Rinker said of an event that will start at 1 p.m. with a car show featuring restored antique cars, like the one owned by Hutchins.

The doors will open at 2:45 p.m. and prospective bidders can preview the 37 works of art that spent the summer downtown and returned to the museum last week starting at 3 p.m.

There will be free hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar thanks to the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen, Miss Vermont, Danielle Morse, will show off her “speed painting skills” and DJ Richard Pitonyak will supply the music.

Regarding how many people Rinker expects, “I have no clue,” he said, noting he is setting up 150 chairs and converting 20 of the stands used for the summer-long display into cocktail tables for those who do.

While proceeds from the auction and, to a lesser extent, turnout are consequential questions there are others that will be answered on Saturday.

One of them has to be, will Jeff Danziger’s legal beagle dog fetch more than Fred Swan’s tuxedoed cat?

The syndicated political cartoonist and Barre’s best known painter were among the folks commissioned to create pieces for the Barre Art Splash.

Both created great pieces, but neither received one of the “people’s choice awards” that were determined by folks who voted downtown between May and December.

Allison Randall’s “Powder Hound” — complete with ski sweater and goggles — was the all-around favorite and also landed separate awards for making people want to smile and looking like the most work.

Miranda Lauzon’s “VinCat van Gogh was judged “most artistic” by folks around town and while there were a lot of cars on display only one of them received special recognition. The bedazzled “Deuce Coupe” local artist Linda Kiniry created for Posh Salon received the award for “most original.”

Whether those awards translate into big bids is a different question. Rinker will be paying close attention to what the quirky collection sells for on Saturday.

While he isn’t ready to make the Barre Art Splash an annual event and is pretty sure it won’t be back next year, if the auction is a success, he didn’t rule out reviving the idea down the road.

“There’s no point in doing it again unless the auction is successful,” he said.

Or is there?

Rinker didn’t sound so sure.

The feedback from downtown merchants was all positive, and it was hard not to notice people pausing to appreciate the interesting pieces of art that were displayed curbside along a ½-mile stretch of North Main Street all summer.

“It was worth it just for the beauty of them out on the street and the people they brought downtown,” Rinker said. “The project is a win even if we don’t sell anything at the auction.”

Based on bids that have already been authorized, that simply isn’t going to happen.

david.delcore @timesargus.com


In a sort of atavistic convulsion, the U.S. has seen renewed, overt racism, demonization of “the other,” the rise of tribalism and white supremacy.

Editorial, A4

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