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Vermont ramps up vaccination efforts; ‘test to stay’ program to keep more kids in school

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 11:01 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2021 at 6:55 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is rebooting its mass vaccination sites as it prepares to roll out thousands of booster shots to bolster immunity.

The state is doling out Pfizer boosters for people who got their second shot at least six months ago. They can get them at state-run clinics, schools and pharmacies.

The state is signing people up by age bracket. Starting Wednesday, everyone 70 and older is eligible.

On Friday, people with underlying conditions including obesity and tobacco use are eligible, along with certain public-facing occupations like grocery store and restaurant workers.

“This means people who work indoors where they are exposed to the public and other workers as well,” Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

So far, only 2,000 people have signed up but leaders are hoping for at least 100,000 more.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson boosters are expected soon for people 18 and up.

And a decision on emergency use of Pfizer shots for kids 5 to 11 is coming soon, too.

TEST TO STAY IN SCHOOL

In schools, cases are still high, with 144 reported in the last week.

As delta drags on, Gov. Phil Scott is now extending his universal school mask recommendation from Oct. 4 to Nov. 1. And there’s more testing on the way.

“And keep in-person learning with as little disruption as possible because we know it’s what’s best for our kids,” said Scott, R-Vermont.

There’s also a push for take-home PCR kits and an effort to streamline parental consent.

A new “test to stay” program is aimed at having as few kids quarantine and miss school as possible.

Unvaccinated students deemed a close contact will have to take a rapid-antigen test before school for a week after exposure. Kids who don’t participate will have to stay home.

The process is modeled after programs in Massachusetts and Utah, and supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Testing is emerging as one of the best tools we have to keep students in school while keeping them safe from COVID-19,” Vermont Education Secretary Dan French said.

School administrators applaud the changes.

“The ability to have us at the school level to respond with testing kits is going to make things a heck of a lot better as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, you can go get tested a week from now,’” Springfield Schools Superintendent Zach McLaughlin said.

The goal is to have it running in a few weeks.

Despite the new testing, the governor still faces pressure from some for a state of emergency.

Scott says the time for unilateral decisions has passed and that more top-down orders aren’t healthy for democracy or Vermonters.

“It’s not healthy for the way we live. It’s not healthy for kids, for elders. We have to learn how to mitigate this and not panic which we’ve been able to do in Vermont,” Scott said.

He says that like the flu, coronavirus is something Vermonters will have to get used to.

DIVING INTO THE DATA

The latest COVID data is beginning to show the delta wave may have crested.

The delta surge meant a mountain of new cases in Vermont over the past three months.

But in the last two weeks, there has been some downward movement, with a 12% drop in new cases in the last week alone.

Vermont is also starting to see a drop in cases in the past week, but remember that September has seen the most cases of any month during the pandemic, and the governor noted one week does not make a trend.

Still, another hopeful sign is hospitalizations, which are also dropping, both among people who are not fully vaccinated and those who are. But the rate of hospitalizations is still three times higher for people who are not vaccinated.

When we go to a national comparison, Vermont had the seventh-fewest COVID admissions in the country last week. New York and New Hampshire are also among the best in this category. Hopeful signs as we head into October.

NO UPDATE ON BORDER CLOSURE

There was no real news Tuesday on the Canadian border, which is closed for nonessential travel coming into the U.S. until the end of October.

The governor noted it’s frustrating that Europeans can fly here but Canadians can’t drive down.

THE NUMBERS

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 82 new coronavirus cases for a total of 33,329. There have been a total of 313 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 3%. A total of 479249 people have been tested, and 28,497 have recovered.

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