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Vermont Officials Discuss School Testing Protocols During Governor’s Weekly Briefing

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Over the past few weeks, one focus of Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing has been the pandemic’s impact on schools. Today, officials outlined a new rapid result testing protocol that is being planned for school districts.

Governor Phil Scott says state officials are working to keep kids in school as much as possible and with as little disruption as possible. The continued spread of COVID-19’s delta variant has led Scott to adjust one of the state recommendations for schools.

“A few weeks ago we recommended schools keep universal masking in place until October 4th at which time the 80 percent vaccination threshold could be applied. However as we continue to watch the data we’re now recommending that districts delay implementing the threshold and keep the universal masking requirement in place until November 1st.”

Many students who must quarantine after a possible COVID exposure do not end up testing positive. But the quarantine has resulted in lost class time for students, parents needing child care and schools trying to manage potential student exposure. Governor Scott announced that a Test to Stay rapid result testing protocol is being developed.

“This is a program that has worked in Massachusetts. And we’ve been working on it in consultation with UVM infectious disease experts and pediatricians who are supportive of this approach. The goal here is to make sure as many kids as possible can remain where they belong in school.”

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French explained that Test to Stay uses rapid-result antigen tests.

“This will be the first time we’ve used antigen tests in schools as part of a testing strategy. The focus of Test to Stay is on individuals who are identified as close contacts to a case who are asymptomatic and unvaccinated and who otherwise would be required to quarantine. Their voluntary participation in Test to Stay can alleviate their need to quarantine," says French. "Under Test to Stay these individuals would still be allowed to attend school but they would take an antigen test each day before entering the school building for seven days after their last possible exposure. We’re still working on the specific logistics of Test to Stay. I also wanted to mention that it’s likely that Test to Stay will play an important role in our winter sports programs.”

Governor Scott also reported on his biweekly call with the National Governors Association and White House officials. He said federal health officials expressed confidence in the COVID-19 booster rollout.

“Dr. Fauci discussed the real world data behind this decision which shows a third dose has increased protection against infection by eleven-fold and in particular against severe illness which was increased by twentyfold," said Scott. "Late last week the FDA and CDC gave the go ahead for booster shots for certain populations. Vermont became one of the first states, if not the first state, to relaunch mass vaccination clinics for boosters last Friday.”

Governor Scott noted that Pfizer has submitted its initial data on the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 to the FDA. If the federal agency approves emergency use authorization, Vermont officials plan to deploy popup and school based clinics, and work with pharmacies to distribute the vaccine to children.

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