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COVID concerns close dozens of area schools

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 5:56 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - COVID continues to upend education in our region. More than three dozen schools are already closed Tuesday, primarily because there are so many cases of the coronavirus that school officials cannot keep up with contact tracing. And there are not enough staffers to manage classrooms.

Many school officials cannot keep up with the quick-spreading omicron variant but the Vermont Department of Health hopes new guidance from the CDC will make things easier for schools and keep kids in class.

“There will still be a fair amount of work with this new policy in place,” said Matthew Fedders, the superintendent of the Central Vermont Supervisory Union.

Fedders says Northfield Middle High School was closed Monday because of the number of students who needed to be contact traced.

But the new guidance to be officially released later this week by the Vermont Agency of Education and Department of Health changes the way schools alert families to positive cases.

“I see it as we’re switching from an individual student contact tracing to more of a classwide notice,” Fedders said.

An example would be a notice alerting you to a positive case in your student’s class and steps to take depending on vaccination status.

“There is no way that contact tracing can keep up with the pace at which the virus is spreading now,” said Patsy Kelso, the Vermont state epidemiologist.

Contact tracing will now involve giving all unvaccinated students an antigen test for five days since exposure. As long as it is negative, they can stay in school.

Vaccinated students without symptoms can continue attending school in person and have the option to take an antigen test on the fifth day.

Kelso says the state is creating contracts with companies that provide tests.

“Very recently we were assured that we have enough coming in in the coming weeks that we can roll this program out,” Kelso said.

Another change-- no more surveillance testing. That’s voluntary PCR testing conducted at school.

“Of the cases that we’ve had, half of them have come through our surveillance testing program,” said Michael Clark, the superintendent of the Grand Isle Supervisory Union.

Clark’s district led the pilot program for surveillance testing and wants to keep it going.

“They didn’t have any signs of COVID, they hadn’t been around people that had COVID, they thought they were good to go. And if they hadn’t had the surveillance test, what would have happened was they would have been in school, going around and potentially infecting other people,” Clark said.

Kelso says it can be reassuring to know your status, but since it takes days for results to come back, the tests are not as actionable.

“That positive on a surveillance test of someone who is asymptomatic could be picking up an infection from three weeks ago or two weeks ago and they are not even infectious anymore,” Kelso explained.

The Education Agency reached out to districts Friday to inform them that change was coming. Kelso says those changes will be made more clear Tuesday during the governor’s weekly COVID news briefing.

But again, more than three dozen schools have already said they will not open Tuesday, so check the school closings on www.wcax.com.

Related Stories:

Educators, parents react to new school COVID guidance

New COVID guidance tells schools to stop contract tracing, PCR testing

Staffing struggles force some Vt. school closures

COVID cases surge at some Vermont schools, barely register at others

Vt. district dismayed by state’s confusing return-to-school guidance

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