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Vermont officials detail plans to ease student mask requirements

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

During his weekly briefing Tuesday, Vermont Governor Phil Scott and his cabinet announced a plan to end masking in schools.

Scott noted that before schools opened last September state guidance recommended that all students wear masks until an 80 percent vaccination threshold had been attained. Scott says a phased in plan to ease student mask requirements will begin on February 28th.

“It’s very measured and incremental and by design and they’ll be able to make decisions on their own. Now a school might say this is the state guidance, we might want to wait a day or two or a week. That’s up to them. It’s up to the school district to make that call," said Scott. "But there are going to be others who might say we don’t care if we’ve attain 80 percent or not we are going to lift our mask mandate. That’s just the way the districts, school districts work in Vermont. We’re just providing the guidance.”

Governor Scott said the decision is based on improving pandemic trends. Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Piechiak reported the weekly data shows strong improvement.

“Looking at our Vermont data again we see continuing improvement here with cases down about 23 percent over the past week, the lowest weekly total we’ve reported since November 1st, the pre-Omicron period. We do anticipate that cases will continue to fall throughout the rest of February and into March.”

Education Secretary Daniel French said despite the optimistic trends the state is not ready to recommend students stop wearing masks immediately.

“For now we will go forward and implement the recommendation we’ve had in our existing guidance that schools with a student vaccination rate of 80 percent or greater do not need to require masks. This recommendation will go live on February 28th as per our guidance." French continued, "The 80 percent threshold was written into our guidance back in August but we delayed its implementation on several occasions primarily to allow student vaccination rates to increase. And you might remember when we wrote the guidance back in September students in age 5 through 11 were at that point not eligible for vaccination.”

French added that a phased approach works best even though Vermont has one the highest student vaccination rates in the country.

“We’re still exiting from the Omicron surge and this approach gives us a few more weeks to see those positive trends continue to play out after the winter vacation. We also think that schools and families need more time to prepare for this change. When we do make that recommendation it’ll be just that: a recommendation," said French. "While we know we’ll continue to see cases in schools, our schools are very safe. They are perhaps some of the safest in the country if not the world due to our high vaccination rates and robust access to testing. We do need to get our students and our schools back to normal as soon as possible.”

The Republican governor began his weekly briefing praising first-time Olympian Megan Nick of Shelburne, Vermont for winning bronze in the women’s Freestyle Skiing Aerials.

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