MONTPELIER — With executive branch employees in addition to other state employee groups now needing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face daily testing and mandated masking, Gov. Phil Scott is urging employers including school districts to adopt similar policies.
“Because we are not under a state of emergency, the state doesn’t have authority to mandate it ourselves,” Scott said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “But I urge school districts who are the employers to take the state as a model and take a similar approach.”
About 87 percent of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data. About 71 percent of all recent hospitalizations in Vermont are among the unvaccinated, according to a presentation by Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.
“Vermont is the most vaccinated state in the union and we continue to have the lowest hospitalization rates,” Scott said. “Currently, there are 43 Vermonters hospitalized with COVID-19 — 36 of them are unvaccinated, just seven are fully vaccinated. So please get vaccinated.”
Secretary of Education Dan French said the state is revising recommendations for contact tracing at schools due to the way the Delta variant spreads more quickly. Instead of having to check on vaccination statuses with the Vermont Department of Health, schools should use a template form provided by the state to have parents attest to their child being vaccinated and provide proof.
New guidance also will say that whole classrooms and groups who share bus rides should not be quarantined. Those within 6 feet of someone who tests positive for the virus for 15 minutes or more over 24 hours should be considered a close contact, French said, noting that testing will be recommended over quarantining when it is unclear whether someone is a close contact.
French noted that under state and federal guidelines, someone who is vaccinated or asymptomatic is not considered a “close contact” of an infected person. Close contacts are advised to quarantine.
Seating charts are suggested to keep better track of contact between students. And when possible, classes are advised to eat together.
French encouraged athletes planning to participate in winter sports to get vaccinated if eligible. Recommendations on winter sports are anticipated to be announced by the state early next month.
“We evaluate each sport for its risk relative to COVID and we’re also very aware of the Delta variant,” French said.
Pieciak said cases declined by about 10 percent nationwide in the last seven days. He said cases in Vermont dropped slightly, with the state reporting 1,050 last week, 86 fewer than the week before.
Long-term care facilities reporting COVID-19 outbreaks include Vernon Green Nursing Home, which has 28 cases; Vernon Hall Assisted Living, which has 11; and Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington, which has 16. Four other long-term facilities in the state have outbreaks.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said vaccinations are preventing much larger outbreaks in facilities and schools.