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State Officials Hope Schools Can Expand In-Person Learning If COVID Cases Remain Low

Phil Scott at a podium
ORCA Media
Gov. Phil Scott's administration is hopeful in-person schooling can continue, and increase, if COVID-19 case rates remain low.

Vermont students returned to school on Tuesday, and state’s education secretary says he hopes districts will be able to offer more in-person instruction in the coming weeks if COVID-19 case rates remain low.

The start of the 2020-2021 school year was pushed back by Gov. Phil Scott to give school districts more time to implement coronavirus mitigation measures. Most schools are offering a mixture of in-person and remote classes.

Schools are required to follow a number of rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including mandatory face coverings, frequent cleaning of the buildings and daily health screenings of students and staff. However the Scott administration left many decisions about reopening up to individual districts  — a point that has been strongly criticized by the union that represents Vermont teachers.

On Tuesday, during his twice weekly press conference, Scott reassured students, parents and educators that his administration was ready to respond if any infections spring up.

“Even though we are by far the safest in the nation with the lowest number of cases and the lowest positive rates, we know there will be bumps in the road, and there will be cases tied to schools,” Scott said. “We also know how important this is for our kids, and we’re here to work with schools as we take this step forward to respond to and contain cases.”

More from VPR: Vermont Prepares For Projected Increase In COVID-19 Cases As Public Schools, Colleges Reopen

Education Secretary Dan French said he hoped that in a few weeks some schools might be able to expand in-person options if coronavirus cases remain low.

“We also know considering the prospect of flu season and moving to more indoor schooling as temperatures cool, we need to take advantage of this time in late September to maximize the in-person learning opportunities for students,” French said.

"... considering the prospect of flu season and moving to more indoor schooling as temperatures cool, we need to take advantage of this time in late September to maximize the in-person learning opportunities for students." — Education Secretary Dan French

The state is also working to set up additional child care hubs to provide additional care for kids whose schools didn’t full reopen for in-person instruction.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said there are currently 24 hubs with capacity for more than 6,000 children.

“There are also 14 additional hub locations where hub applications are in progress, with details being confirmed as we speak,” he said.

However, the state is having trouble finding providers in several areas of the state and is seeking organizations to run hubs in Manchester, Randolph, Grand Isle County and St. Albans, Smith said.

Kinney Drugs to offer testing

A regional pharmacy chain is partnering with the University of Vermont to provide COVID-19 testing.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced Tuesday that Kinney Drugs will offer the test at 11 locations around the state. Levine said some of test sites will open as soon as Wednesday and “others over the next two weeks.”

Levine said he expects that the sites will mostly test people without symptoms of COVID-19.

“Probably the leading sector of that group are people trying to get out of quarantine from travel or potentially people who have been traced as a contact and want to get out of quarantine early,” he said.

Insurance should cover the test, and people should not have to pay out-of-pocket, according to Levine.

No new fatalities since early August

The Health Department reported three news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. One person was hospitalized with the disease and 58 have died — that number hasn't changed sinceAug. 6, when the state reported one fatality.

Levine said as of Tuesday, the state had tested more than 146,000 people for the coronavirus — nearly a quarter of the population.

The state is also working on rolling out a new system for people to register for tests and get their results emailed to them. Levine said the system will get results back to people more quickly “while still protecting privacy.”

Gov. signs order for statewide police reforms

Gov. Phil Scott said he hopes a series of law enforcement reforms he proposed will be enacted “as soon as possible.”

Scott signed an order last week outlining several initiatives, including the creation of a portal to publicly release allegations of police misconduct.

But Scott wouldn’t say how much information he’d like released about those kinds of incidents.

“Within the provisions of protecting an individual’s rights and as well as maybe some union’s rights as well, we’ll try to meander our way through that and provide as much transparency as we possibly can within those parameters,” Scott said.

Scott's executive order also includes developing a statewide use-of-force policy, standardizing data collection across local police departments and increasing the use of body cameras.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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