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Gov. Scott's briefing focuses on post-pandemic recovery

Vermont Governor Phil Scott (file)
Pat Bradley
Vermont Governor Phil Scott (file)

Vermont Governor Phil Scott was back in Montpelier for a COVID briefing Tuesday after a couple weeks holding press conferences in communities far from the capital. His focus was on the administration’s work to overcome and stabilize any impacts from the waning COVID-19 pandemic.

The theme of the latest update from Governor Phil Scott was addressing social and mental health issues as Vermont and the nation emerge from the pandemic. The Republican said the virus is not going away but there are now ways to control it and as the situation improves it’s important to reverse any harm that resulted from early mitigation efforts.

“This includes learning loss as well as social and emotional ramifications for our kids, the strain on our educators and health care workers, the mental health and substance abuse challenges that worsened during the pandemic and the emotional turmoil everyone has gone through after many, many months of uncertainty and fear," Scott said. "All of this is still with us and I assure you addressing these impacts is a high priority for my entire team.”

Agency of Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson said the focus of the past two years has been blunting the severe health outcomes from COVID-19. Now with widely available vaccines and therapeutics she says a new phase has been reached in the pandemic allowing officials to transition from pandemic response to COVID-related impacts of mitigation measures.

“These have impacted our mental health, substance use, housing, child and family wellbeing and the stability of our health care system," Samuelson said. "Emerging from the pandemic we are focused at the agency on three areas of concern. First we must address the increased and the incidents of substance use and acute mental health challenges. Second we must further stabilize our health care system and its workforce. And third we all recognize the need to support the new and growing challenges facing families and children across the state including housing insecurity.”

A significant concern is recovery by youth and educational services. Secretary of Education Dan French explained they face time constraints because many recovery efforts receive federal COVID relief funds that must be spent by September 2024.

“We have two long-term goals," French said. "The first one is to ensure that each school district in the state has strong instructional systems in place. These systems include things like curriculum development, local assessment planning, needs based professional development and a comprehensive system of student supports. Our second long term goal speaks to the integration of education and social services, particularly in mental health and youth services and integrating those services with education. We already have strong integration of these services in some areas of the state but some areas need to be strengthened and expanded. But the immediate goal before us now is to maximize the use of federal dollars to address student learning loss and social and emotional needs of students.”

March for Our Lives rallies occurred last weekend across the country, including in Montpelier, with participants calling for gun reforms. Scott thinks Vermont protestors were focused on urging action in Washington.

“We took some major steps just a few short years ago," the governor said. "And it appears that they have some measure of agreement on the national level, in the Senate in particular, and I hope they move forward with that. We’re encouraging them to do so. They probably won’t go as far as what we did here in Vermont. But all the steps we took I think should be replicated on a national basis.”

In 2018, Scott signed the first gun restrictions implemented in Vermont in generations. Provisions included raising the purchase age for firearms from 18 to 21, banning bump-stocks and requiring background checks for all private gun sales. An extreme protection order process was also instituted to block a person’s access to weapons if they are deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others.