Vermont coronavirus cluster traced to hockey teams and a broomball league

Vermont state health officials say an outbreak of nearly three dozen Covid-19 infections can be traced to games played at a hockey rink earlier this month.

At least 34 cases have been tied to youth and adult hockey leagues, as well as a broomball league, involving teams that either practiced or played at Montpelier’s Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center, according to a press release from the Vermont Department of Health.

Contact tracing has confirmed the cases now involve Union Elementary School, Oxbow High School, and a worksite, and the state said it has set up a number of Covid-19 test clinics in response.

The outbreak follows similar clusters that have been traced to ice hockey rinks in Connecticut and Florida.

Eighteen members of Yale University’s men’s hockey team were instructed to isolate after testing positive for coronavirus late last week. Before that, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report from Florida health department officials that detailed an incident in which one player infected as many as 14 others at a single indoor ice hockey game last spring.

The report warned indoor sports games can turn into superspreader events.

Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine announced half of the cases are primary infections, meaning they were related to the events at the ice rink itself. The other half are either second or third generation infections, often in households, or other places that people connected with others associated with the hockey league.

Levine added it appears that the outbreak was most likely spread due to the kinds of activities teams do together off the ice, such as carpooling to get to and from the rink, as well as social events surrounding the gatherings.

He said, though, that an environment like an indoor hockey rink could uniquely help the spread of the virus.

“With regards to players, not able to keep six feet apart, with absence of masking and in some places absence of facial guards, with humidity factors on the ice and with the fact that the rink is surrounded by 10- foot high Plexiglas — creating a little more of an indoor environment within the rink than say a basketball court would,” said Levine.

Last week, Vermont Governor Phil Scott issued an executive order that stopped the state’s skating rinks from accepting new reservations through the end of the month. Scott said the move was in response to neighboring New Hampshire’s decision to close its ice rinks following dozens of cases there.

Scott said the outbreak in central Vermont “may be connected to the outbreaks in New Hampshire,” and said he was ordering the Vermont rinks to freeze reservations to “reduce the risk to Vermonters, and to help sustain the progress we have made.”

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