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Vermont Education Secretary Daniel French speaks to reporters during a briefing on the state’s ongoing COVID-19 response on Friday.

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MONTPELIER — The state Agency of Education is asking school districts to formulate plans for educational recovery of its pre-kindergarten though Grade 12 students and a hoped-for April return to in-person learning, Education Secretary Daniel French said Friday.

The plans are needed so that the schools can coordinate the use of of state resources and an expected $133 million in new federal coronavirus relief funds to help children catch up on learning and social development interrupted by the virus and remote instruction, French said.

The planned April return to in-person learning was mentioned by Gov. Phil Scott during his inaugural address on Thursday night. In the past several COVID-19 briefings, Scott and French have pointed to the low numbers of students and staff who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The most recent staff surveillance test returned three positive results, and indicates a positivity rate of 0.17 percent, French said. That’s well below the seven-day average of 2.9 percent for the state listed on the Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard on Friday.

French said the plans, to be completed by the end of the month, will focus on three major areas: student mental health and well-being, student reengagement and truancy, and academic success and achievement.

French’s announcement during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing followed news on vaccinations in Vermont. According to Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, the state has delivered 21,000 doses of vaccine.

“We need to keep accelerating pace, even as supplies remain uneven and even disappointing,” Smith said, referring to the lower-than-expected number of doses supplied to the state by the federal government.

Smith also announced that first responders who are directly involved in patient care are being vaccinated in the so-called “1-A” group of recipients, which also includes front-line health care workers, and residents and staff at residential long-term care facilities.

After that, doses will be delivered by age, with those 75 and older going first, Smith said. He and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine continued to defend the state’s decision to vaccinate by age group, saying it was easier to understand and less divisive than other potential criteria, and followed the state’s primary objective: saving lives.

Only 10 of the state’s 156 COVID-19 deaths have been people younger than 65, Smith said.

About 45,000 Vermonters are about 75 or older, Smith said, and once residents aged 65 and older receive doses, that will include about 125,000 people vaccinated, Smith said.

Levine and Smith hosted the session, as Scott, as previously announced, did not attend the briefing.

A number of questions during the briefing centered on the bus trip of about 50 Vermonters who attended or took part in the gathering of Trump supporters that led to a mob storming the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Levine and Public Safety Commissioner Michael E. Schirling said the state did not have a list of travelers from the charter bus company, but reached out to the operators as the bus was returning from Washington D.C., asking that they remind passengers they should quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.

Video footage showed that many of the participants did not wear masks.

Asked if the state is investigating whether Vermont residents played an active role in the assault on the nation’s Capitol, Schirling said the department does not comment on active investigations, but added “we’re actively cooperating with and assisting federal authorities” as they investigate the attack.

Levine said as of Friday, the state is at 8,619 total cases of COVID-19 and 156 deaths. He also said Friday was the second straight day Vermont recorded more than 200 cases of the virus.

There have been nine cases at the state’s ski areas, and the majority of those cases are employees, Levine said. “I strongly encourage everyone to continue wearing masks and social distancing,” he said.

“I wish i could offer new advice, but the fact is we really know how this virus works and what works against it,” Levine said. “Wear a mask, socially distance, avoid travel and gatherings, and stay home when you’re sick.”

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.


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