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Vermont’s weekly COVID briefing emphasizes vaccinations and reviews at home testing protocols for students

Vermont Statehouse
WAMC/Pat Bradley
The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier

Vermont Governor Phil Scott and members of his administration continued emphasizing the importance of vaccinations and boosters during the state’s weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

Vermont officials are cautiously optimistic that the worst of the Omicron outbreak is over. While cases in the state are high compared to pre-Omicron, the forecast indicates a downward trend through February.

Governor Scott also noted that CDC data shows over 95 percent of Vermonters over age 5 have begun vaccination. He said staying up to date with vaccinations and boosters protects people from severe illness and keeps people out of hospitals.

“There’s no doubt Omicron has caused disruption and stress for hospitals, schools and businesses," Scott said. "So as we keep moving forward Vermonters can help themselves and each other by doing the things we’ve talked about for months: get vaccinated and stay up to date. Stay home when sick. Use testing as a tool and wear a mask in crowded indoor settings. These common sense approaches work and they’ll keep us heading in the right direction.”

Earlier this month the Vermont Agency of Education announced schools would transition from an in-school Test to Stay program to a Test at Home protocol when a student may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Secretary Dan French said the change became necessary after Omicron became the dominant strain of COVID.

“We think this new approach will provide a greater degree of safety. Equally important we’re also balancing the risk for education of students not being in school. Earlier this fall we had large numbers of students being excluded from school. Even with Test to Stay we saw I think a 1% positivity rate in Test to Stay so even that being a more targeted approach was still yielding the quarantining of a large number of students that never had COVID," said French. "So, you know, it’s important that we increasingly try to seek that balance between not only the safety but also the educational needs of students. And that educational need is a cumulative need and it’s been accumulating for the last two years. So there is some urgency that we do our best to keep schools open and keep kids In schools as best we can.”

An offshoot of the Omicron variant currently referred to as BA.2 has been circulating in other countries and cases have now been verified in Texas. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said there is not a lot of information about it.

“I’m pretty confident it’s not being listed as a variant of concern," Levin said. "I’m not even sure if it’s graduated to the variant of interest level at this point in time.”

“I just think we all have to be aware and prepared," Governor Scott interjected. "There’s going to be other variants. That’s the nature of the beast and it’s something that we’ve seen and they’ll be in different forms. And hopefully if they are a variant of the Omicron it’ll be much less severe. So that’s what we’re hoping for." Scott cautioned, "But again this is something that we have to be prepared for over the next couple of years. Not something to be concerned with but just something to be aware of.”

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