Photos: A new world of learning

Zaida Strickland, a sixth-grader at Academy School, in Brattleboro, Vt., wears a mask while attending class on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott’s administration is now advising schools to have mask mandates in place for students and staff until Oct. 4.

“We hope by then the Delta wave that has impacted the entire country, though fortunately not as severe in Vermont, will have begun to subside,” Scott said Wednesday during his weekly news conference.

Previously, Scott urged schools to mandate masks regardless of age and vaccination status for at least the first 10 days of school, then until at least 80 percent of students have been vaccinated. All but one small school in Essex County adopted mandates without Vermont having a state of emergency, which would give the governor authority to enact mask mandates.

Scott announced a new incentive program from the state that will allow schools to apply for funds from a $2 million pool once reaching certain benchmarks related to schools vaccination rates. Students are anticipated to provide input on how to use the money.

Vermont reported about 81 cases in schools since reopening this month. Secretary of Education Dan French said the number is unsurprising given the amount of virus transmission associated with the Delta variant.

“We have approximately 80,000 students in person right now in school and that’s a tremendous achievement from where we were last year,” he said. “We need to understand the educational objectives here are equally as important. We can’t afford to see our students go through another year like last year.”

As of Wednesday, 86.6 percent of eligible Vermonters received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. A presentation from Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, says the unvaccinated case rate increased 11 percent in the last seven days while the vaccinated rate increased just 1 percent in the same period.

“Since early July, hospitalizations among those not fully vaccinated have been six times higher than among those fully vaccinated,” the presentation states.

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State employees working in the Department of Corrections, Vermont Veterans’ Home and Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital are required to attest that they have been vaccinated or face weekly testing and mandatory mask wearing as of Sept. 1. The same will be true for executive branch employees starting Sept. 15.

COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities include 22 cases at Vernon Green Nursing Home, four at Vernon Hall Assisted Living and 14 at Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington.

Asked about the three State Police Troopers alleged to have made fake vaccination cards, Scott called the news “incredibly disappointing.”

“I don’t think it’s reflective of the entire State Police organization,” he said. “It’s just a dumb thing to do to be perfectly frank. There will be an outside investigation and we will learn more details but my first question is why?”

Scott said he doesn’t believe fake vaccination cards are a big issue in Vermont.

“It’s easy to get a real one: Just walk into your pharmacy, get vaccinated and you have your card,” he said. “There will be an outside investigation and we will learn more details.”

Michael Schirling, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said there’s no indication that other state employees were involved in making the cards, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading an investigation on “a parallel and separate track” from DPS.