MONTPELIER — Some Vermont school districts are questioning a new state policy asking families to own up to whether they traveled or took part in multifamily gatherings for the Thanksgiving holiday, Secretary of Education Daniel French said Friday.
French, speaking during the Scott administration’s twice-weekly COVID-19 briefing, did not have specific details on which districts might not ask the question, or whether any of them are in Southern Vermont. He expected there would be more clarity next week, when students return to class following the Thanksgiving break.
But French did say schools were concerned about their role in implementing the policy, which requires students who did gather or travel to quarantine, and expressed those concerns when it was handed down by the Agency of Education.
“Particularly, I heard from superintendents who were struggling with the idea that some parents might be less than truthful,” French said. “On one hand schools felt challenged. I think, to go beyond their traditional authority … on the other hand, they do have the authority and responsibility for ensuring that everyone in their school buildings is safe.”
Gov. Phil Scott heard and saw reactions to the policy as well, but chalked that up to the policy “hitting a nerve” with families who were planning gatherings or travel.
“The intent was really to protect Vermonters,” Scott said. “Because we’re seeing so much community spread we had to put a stop to it somehow.”
Along those lines, Scott had a message for those who did travel or take part in a multi-family gathering: “I’d quarantine your children over the next seven days and have them tested. And that way you don’t have to be asked the question.”
The Agency of Education issued the rules amid marked growth in COVID-19 cases, and data showing that much of the spread has come from multi-family social gatherings. Officials hoped that asking students if they’d taken part in a multi-family gathering, and quarantining those who did for remote instruction, would help prevent a “Thanksgiving surge” on top of those new cases.
They had reason for concern: A “worst-case scenario” data model shared Tuesday showed such a surge could double the state’s coronavirus cases in a matter of weeks.
Friday’s new figures from the Department of Health showed the state passed the 4,000 total cases mark, reaching 4,005 on Friday. and adding three more deaths, for a total of 67.
The Department of Health reported 99 new cases, and 18 Vermonters hospitalized, including two in intensive care.
The pandemic continues to intensify in Washington County, which passed Chittenden County (Burlington and its suburbs) for the most cases in the past 14 days. Washington County, which includes Montpelier, Barre, Berlin and Waterbury, has reported 342 cases in the past 14 days, ahead of Chittenden County’s 304.
Scott offered condolences to the families of the three people who died.
“This is the consequence of more virus in the community,” he said. “This is exactly why we’ve taken the steps we’ve taken.
But Scott noted that anecdotal evidence shows many Vermont residents took the guidance seriously and did not travel or gather in large numbers on Thanksgiving Day.
Asked about Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping, Scott and Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle advised that retailers and consumers adhere to the guidelines, avoid crowds, and be creative about holiday shopping — and encouraged shoppers to find a way to shop local.
“We understand Small Business Saturday is important,” Scott said. “I would contend it can be done in a safe way.”
Scott was also asked if he thought whether President Donald Trump’s continued refusal to concede the presidential election to Joe Biden has undermined the integrity of the democratic process in the U.S. He said he thought Trump “bruised” it, but didn’t damage it.
A recent Reuters poll suggests 52 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the election. Scott said he’s one of the 48 percent who believes Biden won.
“We need to move on from this,” Scott said, adding that addressing the pandemic is far more important.
“I believe the election was legit, safe, effective, and the results will stand,” Scott said. “The more governors come to that conclusion, the better off we’ll be.”