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VT Officials Discuss COVID Testing In Schools And Continue To Emphasize Vaccinations In Latest Briefing

 A COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY
Jackie Orchard/WAMC
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A COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY

Vermont officials continued to emphasize vaccinations as the prime deterrent to the spread of COVID-19 during the state’s weekly briefing today.

Governor Phil Scott began his briefing reporting that a technical glitch late last week with an IT vendor that delayed some case reporting has been resolved. But he added that the numbers still show new cases and hospitalizations are driven by unvaccinated individuals.

He said the most important step people can take to protect themselves and curb the spread of the virus is to get vaccinated. He pushed back on some who are calling for reinstatement of pandemic restrictions.

“Broad restrictions had harmful impacts in other areas like people not addressing their health care needs, isolation of older family members, remote learning and business closures that put people out of work. For broad mandates I’d need to declare a state of emergency and the data still doesn’t support that step. What’s more I don’t think it’s the right approach and my team hasn’t recommended it," Scott said. "We’re not in the same place we were six months ago and we simply can’t be in a perpetual state of emergency. It sets a dangerous precedent and would be an abuse of my authority given that vaccines are proving to be so effective in protecting people.”

Last week the state Agency of Education issued revised recommendations for contact tracing in schools in an attempt to be more responsive to the faster spreading delta coronavirus variant. This week Education Secretary Dan French said schools are reporting that the contact tracing process is unsustainable.

“We think we can leverage our relatively high vaccination rates among eligible students to shift our limited contact tracing resources towards the elementary level where most students are not yet eligible for vaccination. We’ll be announcing a revision to our process that limits contact tracing to schools where the student vaccination rate is less than 80 percent.”

French said they will also prioritize testing and plan to pilot take-home PCR tests in five school districts.

“The take home testing kits are used when a student is a close contact and is in quarantine or when a student is symptomatic, staying home and needs a test. The kits are self-contained with everything the family needs to register the kit and give testing consent. The use of these home testing kits should speed up access to testing for affected students," said French. "And we’re also working to speed up our surveillance testing in schools and to identify cases as soon as possible. And this will definitely be an essential part of our strategy as the delta surge comes down.”

Eligibility for the state’s General Assistance Emergency Housing program is set to change on Thursday. If the program ends, more than 500 people housed in hotel and motel rooms face homelessness. Governor Scott noted that the legislature, administration and advocates had agreed on this date to end assistance but now the Republican feels there should be a pause before concluding the program.

“Having heard some of the people that are concerned about this date I brought the team together this morning and said that we should have a 30 day pause. We thought we were all on the same page. We all had the same goal. But that seems to be fracturing as we get closer to the date. So I thought it was a good idea to just pause this for 30 days.”

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