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Vt. briefly placed Washington Co. in ‘yellow zone,’ prompting quarantines

For one weekend, Washington County was off-limits to Vermonters.

Despite no significant change in coronavirus cases, the eastern New York county bordering Vermont was placed in the “yellow” zone on Vermont’s travel advisory Friday.

That meant that Vermonters would have to quarantine for 14 days after visiting the county for leisure activities.

On Tuesday morning, Vermont labeled Washington County as “green” again, available for visitation. But the damage had already been done.

At Slate Valley Unified School District in Fair Haven, Vermont, more than 20 students are quarantining at home because they went apple picking, played baseball or went to dance lessons in Washington County last weekend. Slate Valley is offering in-person school, with no virtual option, so students are missing out on their lessons for two weeks.

Two teachers are also quarantined after they ventured 1 mile down the road to New York state. One of them went apple picking, Superintendent Brooke Farrell said.

“It’s confusing because it’s fine to (cross the border) for groceries but it’s not OK for leisure activities. Defining that for families is terribly confusing,” she said. “Apple picking is defined as a leisure activity. It was a beautiful weekend — a lot of people went to Hicks (Orchard in Granville) to pick apples.”

They cannot return to school even though Washington County was switched to green on Tuesday.

“They went there while it was yellow,” Farrell said.

There is one faster option: After seven days, students can get a COVID test. If it’s negative, they can return to school before the 14-day quarantine ends.

When Washington County went yellow at noon on Friday, Farrell sent an email to all families in hopes of warding off problems Monday. But many families either didn’t see it, or thought that essential activities would include sports classes and picking apples. School is considered essential, but not dance lessons. Visiting a grocery store is also allowed, but not apple picking.

“It’s very confusing for everyone to follow and know what to do,” she said. “It’s hard for me to justify it to families.”

But she cannot waive the state rules, she said.

Washington County shares a long border with Vermont, and residents routinely travel back and forth.

Businesses in towns that get many Vermonters said they didn’t see a huge dip in customers over the weekend. It appeared that most people either ignored the rules or didn’t realize the rules had changed, they said.

“We’ve still been having Vermonters come in, so we haven’t really noticed anything. I think people are kind of ignoring it,” said Amelia Schraver at The Florist at Mandy Spring Nursery.

Even business owners in Vermont were taken aback to learn that Washington County had briefly been on the mandatory quarantine list. They said they had taken no extra precautions and hadn’t been aware of the change. Those who live in a “yellow” county, which includes Warren, Saratoga and Essex counties as of Tuesday, must quarantine for 14 days and pass a COVID test before entering Vermont for non-essential activities.

Vermont officials defended the four-day yellow status for Washington County, saying that the number of cases and number of people sick changed significantly, which is heavily weighted in the formula that calculates each county’s status.

Four weeks ago, Washington County had an excellent week, with just one person testing positive for coronavirus. In the next two weeks, eight and nine people, respectively, tested positive. Additionally, most of the eight people who tested positive were still sick when the next nine people tested positive, and the Vermont formula takes into consideration the number of people who are sick.

Last week, only four people tested positive and many people recovered, which may be why the county is now back in the green.

After last week, Vermont officials are no longer updating the map on Fridays. Vermont officials are now updating the map every Tuesday to allow residents to better plan their weekends.

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