MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Most Vermont schools will be open this week, and only one small district consisting of one school has not adapted a mask requirement, Vermont Education Secretary Dan French said Tuesday.
The state recommended that schools require masks for all students and staff for the first 10 days and continue to require them for children under age 12 in schools with low vaccination rates, French said during the governor’s weekly coronavirus briefing. “Next to vaccination, masking is one of our most important mitigation strategies,” he said. “We know masks worked based on our experience with the virus last year.”
He and Gov. Phil Scott addressed the recent tensions at some school board meetings, saying the boards and superintendents instituting masking requirements are doing what the state is recommending. “The attacks towards them are absolutely unacceptable. If they want to blame someone, blame me,” Scott said.
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% of children ages 12 to 17 to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Scott said. Now, over 85% of eligible people in Vermont and 75% of the state’s total population have at least one vaccine dose and over 68% 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% of all recent hospitalizations and 52% 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.
More than 92% 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.
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.