Back to school season starts this week in Vermont, where all school districts but one consisting of a single school are enforcing mask requirements, Vermont Education Secretary Dan French said during the state’s weekly coronavirus briefing.
Vermont advised schools to enforce mask mandates for all students and staff for the first two weeks of classes, then continue the requirement for children under age 12 in schools with low vaccination rates.
“Next to vaccination, masking is one of our most important mitigation strategies. We know masks worked based on our experience with the virus last year,” French said.
The education head and Governor Phil Scott also touched on disputes at some board of education meetings. They said that school administrators in the state are following state guidelines and shouldn’t be targeted.
“The attacks towards them are absolutely unacceptable. If they want to blame someone, blame me,” Scott said.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Contact tracing will continue to be done in schools and could lead to times when classes or schools are closed, but hopefully for shorter periods of time than last year, French said. Vermont is adding volunteer surveillance testing of students this year. Last year, the state used surveillance testing of staff.
“This means we will identify more cases in schools, many of which would not have been found because they’re asymptomatic,” he said. “This is not a bad thing since it helps us stop the spread of the virus in our communities.”
Vermont also became this first state this past weekend to reach 75 percent of children ages 12 to 17 to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Scott said.
Now over 85 percent of eligible people in Vermont and 75 percent of the state’s total population have at least one vaccine dose and over 68 percent of Vermont’s total population is fully vaccinated, Scott said.
“As a result, we’re better protected than any other state from delta and the data shows that,” he said.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said he agrees with the CDC recommendation that masking indoors is appropriate regardless of a person’s vaccination status in areas with substantial or high levels of virus transmission.
Vermont reported 104 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, for a statewide total since the pandemic began of 28,200 cases.
The Health Department reported 28 people hospitalized with the illness, including eight in intensive care.
On average, 72 percent of all recent hospitalizations and 52 percent of critical care stays have been among the unvaccinated, according to Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, who has been handling the virus data for the state.
Vermont reported 16 COVID-19 deaths in August.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 67.00 new cases per day on August 15 to 130.29 new cases per day on August 29.
The Associated Press is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.
More than 92 percent of the college students now in Vermont are fully vaccinated, according to state data released on Tuesday.
Nearly all the arriving students at the University of Vermont have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera says officials are still working with fewer than 100 students to bring them into compliance with the school’s vaccination requirement.
Last month, school officials decided to require vaccination for all students as part of an attempt to control the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. And earlier this month UVM reinstituted an indoor mask mandate for all faculty, staff, students, and visitors on the Burlington campus.