Vermont Governor Phil Scott and members of his administration provided a COVID-19 update Tuesday. Among the key topics was the next step schools are taking in the reopening process.
Under guidance provided by the Vermont Agency of Education, the reopening of schools occurs in three steps. During Step 1 schools were closed for in-person instruction and remote learning was applied for all students. During Step 2 schools open for in-person instruction with stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures. Step 3 still requires the stringent measures but schools have more flexibility in how they are implemented. Schools across Vermont opened on September 8th at Step 2. On Tuesday, Education Secretary Dan French announced that the operational status for schools is changing to Step 3. “Our decision in determining the step levels for schools is based on the consideration of two variables. The first variable is the overall health conditions for the virus in Vermont. The other variable for our decision making is an assessment of to what extent our schools are being able to implement our required health guidance. Based on our review of these considerations we are announcing all schools will be placed on Step 3 effective September 26th.”
French explained that they decided to make Step 3 effective on a Saturday because the change in step level is connected to the agency’s sports guidance. “Moving to Step 3 will permit the start of interscholastic competitions this weekend. We wanted to give our student athletes an extra weekend for what has already been a shortened season. This is particularly important for our students participating in activities that have short seasons to begin with.”
Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine noted that Vermont remains at 58 deaths with none recorded in 56 days as the nation reports 200,000 overall. As of Tuesday morning he reported there have been four cases of the virus connected to three Vermont schools since the start of the school year. "Two weeks in we have seen no COVID-19 transmission within K-12 schools. Among the current cases associated with the three schools none of the people who tested positive got the virus due to being in school. Based on our investigations all had been exposed prior to classes beginning.”
Vermont Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak provides weekly data and modeling on the impact of the pandemic on the state. He said while Vermont’s data is relatively stable the virus is active across the region. “Looking at the regional data we do see cases increasing week over week. We include Quebec in this regional forecast anticipating that at some point the border would be open and they would be included in our sort of regional focus. But I will point out that Quebec has seen an increase, pretty significant compared to the other states around us. So that is accounting for a lot of the increase that we’re seeing in the last couple of weeks. But we are seeing increases across the region as well.”
In a statement upon the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Governor Scott wrote: “While it is important to take the time to mourn her passing, we must also follow precedent, as well as her dying wishes, and delay the appointment process until after Inauguration Day.”
Scott, a Republican, was asked if he still holds that opinion. “I think that the point was made four years ago that that was preferable and that’s the precedent. So if we want to instill confidence in our political system, confidence trust in government, I think we have to just follow through and temper down what we’re seeing throughout our nation. This is an area that’s going to further divide the United States and we just have to take the first step in trying to prevent that from happening from my standpoint.”
A VPR-Vermont PBS poll released this week shows Scott has a 68 percent approval rating and leads challenger Progressive/Democrat David Zuckerman in the gubernatorial race 55 to 24 percent.