MONTPELIER — The state started delivering personal protective equipment to schools this week as they prepare to reopen soon.
"This has been a significant partnership with the Vermont Emergency Management, Vermont National Guard and the Vermont Agency of Transportation," Dan French, secretary of education, said Tuesday during the twice-weekly news conference on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. "On behalf of our schools, I would like to thank these entities for their dedicated service and support."
About 1,634 PPE kits are going to school nurses and COVID-19 coordinators in school districts around the state in case of a potential case, French said. Included in the kits are surgical gowns, face shields, surgical masks and gloves.
Every Vermont school is getting 2 gallons of hand sanitizer and a limited supply of adult face coverings, French said. Face coverings will be required at all schools and schools have already received N95 masks from the state.
Schools in Bennington and Windham counties are among those anticipated to get kits next week. Staff are already starting to return to schools to begin training sessions, French said.
"We're just two weeks away from the restart date we set for Sept. 8," Gov. Phil Scott said. "As we get closer to the school year, we want to remind everyone — whether you have kids or family members in the schools or not — to be extra vigilant when it comes to wearing a mask in public, washing your hands, physically distancing, staying home when sick and following the state's travel guidance."
Most school districts in Vermont are taking the "hybrid approach," Scott said, referring to a mix of remote and in-person classes. He noted the importance of improving remote operations as schools can close in the event of a community outbreak.
School district leaders' efforts to ensure safety were applauded by Scott.
"Many kids and families need to this to be successful," he said. "They need to get back to school."
State Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the major finding of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report is childcare programs that resumed operations in communities with low rates of virus infection and followed strict protocols including masking of adults, daily health screenings, maximum class sizes of 20 and strict disinfection practices were successful at limiting new infections.
"During June and July, of 666 programs that reopened, cases occurred in 29 and in only four of the 666 did so-called secondary transmission — transmission from adult to others in the facility — occur within those facilities," he said. "This means the infection was contained in all the others or totally prevented in the majority. The director of the CDC believes this is further evidence that childcares and schools can open safely."
Levine said new daily cases of the virus in Vermont have recently varied from a low of four to a high of 12 with "a wide age distribution. But he cautioned that the virus is "still very present and widespread throughout the state."
French spoke in support of being transparent about cases discovered in school networks while also respecting privacy. A positive test for the virus "could involve isolating a student or teacher or small number of students or entire schools," Levine said.
"There's some very specific guidelines we follow to be able to ascertain how detailed this needs to be," he said. "Public health will always do the right thing."
State officials also announced the expansion of Department of Motor Vehicle services.
Offices in Rutland, Montpelier and South Burlington will be reopening by appointment only using a new online scheduling system. DMV Commissioner Wanda Minoli said new phones are being added to help with scheduling.
"Appointments mean no or minimal waiting," she said. "We believe that this new way of serving your needs will transform how Vermont interacts with the DMV. This is yet another step toward our full modernization."
Other DMV locations are expected to open after the new scheduling system is assessed. Minoli said the department has retrained staff, reconfigured offices, purchased new supplies and worked with informational technology teams to ensure safe reopenings.
A three-week backlog of mail-in transactions was cited in a new online system for drivers to get temporary registrations and license plates from home. Minoli encouraged Vermonters to use the many services already available online at dmv.vt.gov.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.