With the omicron variant twice as transmissible as the delta variant, Vermont’s Education Secretary says his department will be reviewing school guidance. Currently, schools and parents say they are feeling prepared and ready to redouble their efforts.

Secretary of Education Dan French says that the test-to-stay program has been a successful strategy in Vermont schools. Last week, nearly 26-thousand tests were conducted, the most tests since the program began in October.

The COVID response coordinator for Colchester schools says they’ve addressed the pandemic with a “layered approach.” Moriah McCullagh, COVID coordinator and district nursing supervisor says Colchester schools began the year with six weeks of surveillance testing. Then it became the test-to-stay program with P-C-R and antigen tests for unvaccinated students and staff identified as close contacts.

“It has definitely been a labor-intensive process,” said McCullagh. “What I do see changing after the New Year is that we are going to have a lot of students close to being fully vaccinated in that 5-12 age group.”

What that means is students with two shots will not need to participate in the test to stay if they are a close contact. Secretary French says getting vaccinated is still the best strategy and that as far as contact tracing, his department will be reviewing the guidance.

“I think this issue of speed of contagion is proved to be one of the more challenging aspects for our schools, relative to our experience with Delta.”

Kathleen Kelly of Hinesburg has children at Williston Central School says she’s prepared for this new surge and feels relieved with her kids fully vaccinated. “I’m not more scared, I’m the same scared. But I guess my fear for me, directly and for my family, especially now that we’re vaccinated – that was life-changing to have your kid vaccinated. That changes the whole scope of daily life.”  

Secretary French says the Department of Education will likely push back the mask-wearing recommendations in schools. Initially, if a school reaches a vaccination rate of 80%, they could lift their mask requirement on January 18 but Secretary French says mask mandates might stick around a bit longer.