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Governor Scott’s weekly briefing reviews school testing programs

Vermont Statehouse  (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Vermont Statehouse (file)

Vermont Governor Phil Scott and members of his administration provided their weekly briefing this afternoon. Much of the discussion focused on clarification and updates to COVID testing plans for schools.

Scott began his weekly report noting that national, regional and Vermont COVID-19 case rates continue to decline. The Republican said if the trend continues, the lower numbers may coincide with possible FDA approval of vaccinations for children under 12, which he calls a huge step forward.

“As we await their decision we’ll continue to make preparations to make sure the vaccine is as accessible as possible so Vermonters can continue leading the way," Scott said. "On vaccine boosters I want to remind folks that if you're eligible you should get one as soon as you as you can. If you received the Pfizer vaccine more than six months ago, have a health condition or work in a high risk setting, and that term will be interpreted broadly, you’re eligible. We’re anticipating booster approval for Moderna and J&J in the coming weeks.”

On Friday, the state Agency of Education released information and resources about testing programs that are being rolled out to schools across the state. A Test to Stay rapid antigen test helps prevent keeping students in quarantine. Another option is in-school PCR testing when students or staff become symptomatic. Schools will also have access to take home PCR tests that can be distributed to students and staff. Education Secretary Dan French says they all complement the agency’s surveillance testing program.

“All of these programs are designed to be complementary with the goal of keeping students at school and learning. Things will look different from school to school. So parents and families should expect to hear directly from their schools on how these programs will exactly be rolled out locally. Our challenge will be to support schools to enact testing programs while they’re doing everything else at the same time," said French. "The major bottleneck for implementing testing will be staffing. I expect many schools will consider hiring additional staff or redeploying staff they already have on hand. School nurses will have access to student vaccination information in the state Vaccination Immunization Registry. This will greatly speed up their ability to make decisions around contact tracing and the vaccination status of students.”

Secretary French’s comment on the staffing situation generated questions on how schools can potentially fill those positions when they’ve been having problems filling other jobs. Governor Scott noted there is a workforce shortage across the state.

“It’s across every single sector. We have a workforce crisis in some respects on our hands. Secretary French?”

French responded, "Definitely school districts feeling the shortages. There needs to a priority on testing because it accomplishes both our educational goals and our health goals. So I think we’re going have to figure that out just you know working with what we have to a certain extent. If additional staff are needed it’s not necessarily going to be licensed educator staff to do that work. Schools will have additional options in terms of finding some of those staff. It’s going to be difficult in some communities for sure. The testing strategy is the one that’s I think really going to enable more kids to be in school so we just have to figure it out on a school by school basis.”

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