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Vermont Officials Emphasize COVID Mitigation Measures As Schools Prepare For In-Person Instruction

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse

As schools in Vermont prepare to reopen for fall classes, a focus of Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing on Tuesday was COVID recommendations for in-person instruction.

Vermont schools will return to full in-person instruction five days a week. Governor Scott noted that without the State of Emergency in place, he cannot mandate COVID measures. He reiterated the COVID safely recommendations the state has issued to schools for the upcoming return to classes.

“We believe and strongly recommend that masks be required for all students of all ages at the start of the year. For students under 12 who are currently ineligible for the vaccine we are asking districts to mandate masking until they are approved to receive the vaccine and are fully vaccinated," Scott said. "Without a State of Emergency in place the state cannot require this unilaterally. Which is why weeks ago we issued our recommendations to districts to give them time to implement at the local level.”

Vermont Deputy Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey is optimistic that schools will implement the state recommendations and kids can return to a somewhat normal school routine.

“As both an educator and a parent myself I can say that it’s incredibly valuable to have kids returning to the classroom, to PE and sports, to music and drama and all the many other extracurriculars available. And also more generally to spending time together with their friends which we know is incredibly valuable in a context of learning and development for our students." Bouchey adds, "We’re hearing from educators, parents and community members that students are excited to return to school with less worry and restrictions than there were last year.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says people should expect some COVID cases to occur in schools despite precautions.

“Anyone who is unvaccinated is at greater risk of getting and spreading the virus. This includes children who can’t be vaccinated right now – those age 11 and under. In the meantime we all believe it’s important for children to have and enjoy as normal an educational experience as possible. Our schools and their staff have been and continue to be amazing partners in keeping their communities safe," Levine says. "Fortunately data shows any severe affects from COVID-19 in children continue to be rare in Vermont.”

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak provided his weekly report on COVID trends. While rates appear to be plateauing he said cases in Vermont remain significantly different between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.

“So in the unvaccinated rates that rate of increase is about 28 percent compared to the 18 percent in the fully vaccinated case rates. So the fully vaccinated rates: less cases growing less quickly than those who are unvaccinated. So it continues to be you know a situation where our case growth is being driven by those who are not fully vaccinated.”

Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says medical facilities are now seeing people seeking care that they may have delayed or couldn’t easily access earlier in the pandemic.

“As a result they may be showing up sicker and requiring hospitalization. We are also seeing people seeking mental health services showing up in the emergency departments. Mental health capacity has been an issue pre-pandemic," notes Smith. "To assist with this the Vermont Department of Mental Health is bringing on more staff to open up 9 closed beds at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin. In addition, the Brattleboro Retreat has twelve new Level 1 adult beds and four pediatric beds.”

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