18 Derry residents test positive for Covid-19; Town Office closed; softball tourney in Chester draws maskless crowds

By Cynthia Prairie and
Shawn Cunningham
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At least 18 people in Londonderry have tested positive for Covid-19 at a rapid testing facility in Manchester, town Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie said on late Monday afternoon. He added that the state is contacting those people and telling them to get retested. And the Londonderry Town Office has closed to all visitors while employees get tested following an exposure to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, 14 miles west in Manchester, the Manchester Medical Center announced this weekend that its office confirmed five positive cases “with dozens more tested and awaiting results.” That number became clearer late Monday when Manchester officials confirmed at least 35 cases of Covid-19 in the Northshire and the Mountain communities, including the 18 in Londonderry. Those tests were taken between Saturday, July 11 and Monday, July 13. The Mountain communities include Winhall, Peru, Londonderry and Weston.

Manchester Town Manager John O’Keefe and Town Health Officer Dr. Tom Sterling said in a statement that “the cases are regional in nature and not isolated to one community. More than half of the cases reported are from Mountain communities along Route 11 and Route 30. Manchester residents and visitors to Manchester are strongly urged to wear face masks, wash their hands and avoid close contact with other people.”

These numbers are not likely to be seen in those reported each day by state health officials as they are only “presumed positive” and require further tests to be confirmed positive cases. A pop-up testing site scheduled for Flood Brook School from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15 booked up quickly and is now full. Update 6:45 p.m. According to an email from Flood Brook School Principal Neal McIntyre, the Health Department is saying they will have a limited number of test kits for walk-ins but there is no guarantee of being tested.

And 14 miles to the east, the Town of Chester has closed its municipal swimming pool after learning that a child who tested positive for the coronavirus had been there on Thursday, July 9. In addition, the privately owned MacKenzie Field has hosted two softball tournaments since the end of June in violation of Gov. Phil Scott’s executive order for a “phased restart” of the state.

The situation is especially disconcerting in a corridor that has been relatively free of the virus. However, as the state opens up and the weather has improved, so has group outdoor and tourist activity. This is an evolving story and The Telegraph will have updates as they become available.

Emergency meeting in Derry

In Londonderry, the Select Board had called an emergency meeting on Sunday night to discuss the fact that a visitor to Town Offices had tested positive for the deadly virus.

The Londonderry drive-up window at the Town Office has worked well is preventing personal contact, says Town Clerk Kelly Pajala. Telegraph file photo.

According to Select Board chair George Mora, “Someone had been in the vault doing research on Tuesday, July 7 and a positive test came back on Sunday.” Both Town Clerk Kelly Pajala, who is also a state representative, and Town Treasurer Tina Labeau, were in the office on that Tuesday. Pajala said that person is asymptomatic.

Mora emphasized, “All were wearing masks, practicing social distancing and using hand sanitizer.”

At this point, Beatty said, the Town Office will be closed to visitors, “till we get through the testing period … for at least two weeks.”

The Town Office is also checking sign-in logs to see who else might have come in contact with that person. The logs, Pajala said, “are a fairly short list,” and those they have called are appreciative.

‘The best thing we can do is .. not interact with people,’ Pajala told The Telegraph.

Pajala posted on Facebook on Monday that “As a result of contact tracing the Londonderry Town Clerk’s Office will be closed until further notice, including the pick up window. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but we do not want to have any contact with the public until all required contact tracing and testing has been done.”

In an interview, Pajala noted that the pickup window has been helpful in keeping personal contact with the public low and many people have been using it. “The best thing we can do is be cautious and not interact with people,” she said.  Pajala added that if everyone in the office tests negative, “we’ll revisit opening.”

Mora added that the Select Board is also keeping an eye on the cases to see if there is any relation to the West River Farmers Market, which opened in late May and is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the park on Route 11 at Route 100.  She added that “there is no indication” that there is any relationship, “but we have to be cautious.”

Beattie said he “takes a look” at the farmers market every week, “and “it’s been looking good,” meaning in compliance with what the town has asked.

Derry Board Chair George Mora would like to see more direction from Gov. Phil Scott.

To date, Mora said, “We have not had any publicly known cases in Londonderry and now we have this and an outbreak in Manchester.”

All three expressed their hope that the public would be more mindful and wear masks. Speaking as a state representative, Pajala said, “I wish everyone would wear a mask when they are in public. Whether it’s a mandate or not, I wish everyone would wear one.”

As for mandating masks, Mora said, “We can mandate masks, but there is no enforcement mechanism. It would be really helpful if the governor and the state health department would be a little more direct, even if they addressed only those areas that are having problems.”

Beattie said that, “Locally, we are going to put out a public advisement to go back to where we started until we get a handle on this.”

Chester pool closed after child with Covid visits

In Chester, town government issued a press release on Monday saying that the pool would be closed for professional cleaning after a young girl who visited there on July 9 between 6 and 6:45 p.m. tested positive for coronavirus.

The child, who is not a Chester resident, was tested as part of contact tracing unrelated to the pool, according to the press release, which went on to say that while there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through chlorinated water, the town decided it was best to close the pool for the cleaning.

The cleaning is in addition to the regular protocols for the pool under which the pool and poolhouse are cleared every 45 minutes to clean touchable surfaces.

If you were at the town pool between 6 to 6:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 9, please call the Chester Town Office at 802-875-2173 to confirm your contact information and get in touch with your healthcare provider regarding testing for Covid-19.

Softball tournament ‘out of control’

On Saturday, The Chester Telegraph was alerted by an upset reader who spotted crowds at the softball fields behind the Stone House Antiques Center in Chester. He said people had thronged together for what seemed to be an awards ceremony on the field and no one was wearing a mask or practicing distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

People gathering at MacKenzie Field on Saturday. Photo submitted.

He also sent along pictures that he took of the situation.

The Green Mountain Softball League had held a tournament on Saturday and Sunday that attracted about 350 people, including two teams from out of state. Chester Town Manager Julie Hance told The Telegraph on Monday that Police Chief Rick Cloud spoke with organizer Steve Pippin earlier in the day.

According to Hance, Pippin told Cloud that the situation got “out of control” with more people than expected. A walk around the site found no one using a mask and little or no social distancing. A number of vehicles bore license plates from New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Hance said Cloud told Pippin that while individual games can be played, tournaments – multiple teams playing one another over one or two days – are not allowed. He added that if a situation gets out of control,  organizers should call the police to break it up and send people home.

State rules say: Competition between Vermont clubs (i.e., inter-squad games) may resume July 1 limited to individual matches or sporting events. “Jamboree” or tournament-style play (one team playing multiple games vs multiple opponents in a single day/weekend) is not currently permitted. This will be reevaluated on August 1st. 

Several attempts to reach Pippin failed and no messages could be left on any of the numbers found for him.

State Rep. Tom Burditt of South Rutland, who attended Saturday’s tournament, a portion of which was a benefit to fight drug addiction, said he didn’t see any masks at the event. And he said that while he didn’t hug anyone, he did shake a few hands. Burditt said he was unaware of the ban on tournaments.

Team games are still planned for this week.  And the league has another tournament scheduled for weekend of Aug. 8 and 9 with Vermont teams only playing. The state guidance on sports activities will be reviewed and the ban on tournaments could be lifted on Aug. 1. If there is no change the tournament cannot go forward.

Hance said that if the August tournament is allowed, she will follow up with the organizers and the police will be making the rounds of the fields. She also said that the Green Mountain Softball League has the contact information for those who attended this weekend.


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Filed Under: CommunityCovid 19 CoverageFeaturedLatest NewsLocal announcementsSouthern Vermont activity

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. P. Hendrickson says:

    The local people of Chester deserve safe places to shop for groceries and other necessities locally. Without arrogant people from out of state going into Chester businesses without wearing masks. Who should make the rules….the town government ie the select board, not Scott or Trump, da. And if YOU don’t want to wear a mask don’t go there.

  2. Justin Veysey says:

    I think that people should know that Steve Pippin is not the head of any softball tournaments or the league. He has no control over tournaments happening or not. He is just a great community member that volunteers and commits a lot of his personal time to help make our town a better place. Also, the players seen in this softball photo were gathering to honor someone who passed seeing how the tournament played was in his honor and the money goes to a good cause in his honor. There are no “awards ceremonies” taking place. Other than this photo, players and teams are always distant from each other. If people are going to write articles and publicize things then maybe they should check their facts first. The softball fields are privately owned and there are plenty of signs posting fair warnings that there are people there not wearing masks. Nobody is forcing anyone to go to the fields, it is their choice. As far as these players being elsewhere in the town, it is up to businesses like Jiffy to enforce people to wear masks. If they are not doing this then simply don’t shop there. Seeing how only 2 of these COVID cases came back actually positive, I think we may have jumped the gun and overreacted here. I am not trying to downplay COVID or anything but I do thank that peoples time and energy could be better spent elsewhere. Thank you for your time and concerns, stay safe and enjoy the rest of your summer.

  3. P. Hendrickson says:

    Scott says self quarantine for 14 days. How does someone from out of state do that if they are here for only the weekend? Vermont will become the melting pot of the virus. The borders should have been closed.

  4. Bob Campbell says:

    Oh boy, More COVID-19 coming to Vermont. At 4 p.m. today July 17, tons of traffic on Rt. 103 mostly Connecticut. Are they going to quarantine for 14 days and not go to Bromley or Manchester or Stratton or Okemo or public pools or softball tournaments? Vermont residents would be wise to stay at home until there is a definition of the COVID -19 cases in the mountain towns. I have long said if you have a home in the mountain towns or nearby and follow the readily and often published guidelines you are welcome. If you are arrogant and disrespectful and choose not to follow them YOU ARE NOT WELCOME. If you are unwilling or unable to do so then go home.

  5. P. Hendrickson says:

    Fyi, the Jiffy Mart in Chester has hundreds of out of state people going in without wearing a mask. There are way more of them than locals, da. Every time I go there that is what I see, a bunch of pompous people who could care less about protecting others. I am not going back.

  6. L lawson says:

    I find it interesting that there is no mention of weather those cases are from out of state residents.
    I find it scary that they are all over the place not quarantined.
    I can’t even live in my own state and be safe .

  7. Wendy Schwarz says:

    The head of the CDC has stated that if everyone wore a face mask, we’d have this beat in way less time. (We could have our lives more firmly back too. )

  8. Arlene Mutschler says:

    People just think that the rules don’t apply to them! And people from out of state MUST quarantine and we know they don’t. They come here for the weekend and leave. I know there is no way to control 2nd home owners, but they have to be made to understand. Hotels should be fined for accepting reservation from out of state people. I stopped at Vermont Country Store on a MONDAY morning.. 24 cars in parking lot, mine was the only VT plate! I LEFT! You know they were there for the weekend and now heading home.

  9. Doug Friant says:

    I am dismayed that the state is not reporting the now 42 positives from Manchester and Londonderry on their website. While the positive tests came from a private provider using the fast antigen test kits, the positivity accuracy of those tests is excellent. They do produce 12% false negatives, but the PCR test produces 6% false negatives. Of course a PCR is more definitive for identifying negatives, but the State of Vermont should report all positives regardless of the source. Withholding positive cases from the state website is spreading disinformation and is fundamentally wrong.

    Wear a mask! Covid is all around us.

  10. Michael O'Dea says:

    Why are they calling Londonderry, Derry?

  11. Aula Smith says:

    A question for those who know: Is a person is identified as having been in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID 19 required to isolate until they obtain test results? If yes, would that be until they obtain the presumptive test results or the more rigorous ones? Thank you.

  12. Hi Stuart,
    It’s hard to tell at this point. The state keeps that pretty close to the vest – privacy reasons – but if there is a particular origin that’s likely to come out in time.

  13. stuart itter says:

    Hi. Were the 18 people from Londonderry that were tested positive residents of Londonderry, leisure second home owners, or weekend visitors? And, what was the likely point were they were infected? Thank you.