Coronavirus updates

Director: Police Academy recruits on track to graduate despite virus

Case count at 19, including one staff member

By Lee J. Kahrs

PITTSFORD — Almost the entire current class of recruits at the Vermont Police Academy has now tested positive for Covid-19, but director William Sheets said recruits have not lost much training and class time, and graduation is tentatively set for Jan. 4.

When news of the positive cases first broke last week, eight of the 23 members of the class training to become full-time law enforcement officers tested positive for the virus.

Now, Sheets has confirmed that 18 recruits and one staff member have tested positive for Covid-19, although not all are symptomatic and none are hospitalized, he said. Those infected include recruits with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department, the Castleton Police Department, and 10 recruits with Vermont State Police.

“I think these are truly final numbers,” he said. “As of Saturday, everyone has completed PCR [nasal swab testing].”

The cases emerged even though the academy had taken precautions against the virus. Recruits were each in single rooms and wearing masks at all times, and classes were held in the academy’s gym as opposed to in smaller classrooms with less air circulation.

Only 11 days from graduation when the first positive cases were detected Dec. 4, Sheets said instructors immediately switched to remote and online training.

“We’re finishing what we can do online,” he said. “Within the 16-week program, we were in the post-basic phase, so we were able to offer full training remotely and they are not too far behind. All of the recruits were able to continue the online learning format.”

For now, everyone who works for the Police Academy is working remotely until further notice, Sheets said.

“We’ll keep it that way until Jan. 4 at this point,” he said.

That is the new graduation date, although graduation will look very different for this class, Sheets said.

“It’ll just be recruits and staff,” he said. “We’ll record it for posterity, but it will be very different.”

Traditionally, spouses and other family members are a big part of the ceremony. One family member is chosen to pin the graduating recruits with the badge of completion from the academy.

“Nothing can replace the family member welcoming their cadet and pinning the badge, but unfortunately, these are sacrifices we make for living in a Covid environment,” Sheets said.

The ultimate goal is to have a healthy class that is well trained and ready for real world law enforcement, and Sheets said that is the plan.

“We’re still hoping to get them back in person on Jan. 4 and safely complete training and deliver them to their respective organizations,” Sheets said.

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