Governor reopens state a little bit more
Child care facilities, summer day camps are on the list
MONTPELIER — Child care programs and summer day camps will be allowed to reopen this season, subject to to-be-released requirements, as Vermont's COVID-19 data continues to trend in a positive direction.
"We continue to put more and more Vermonters back to work," said Gov. Phil Scott at a scheduled press conference on Friday. "[With that], I know there are many who are worried that they won't be able to return to a job because schools and child care providers are closed."
Scott previously ordered child care facilities to close to the general public as part of an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
But with positive trends in data and Vermonters taking social distancing and other mitigation requirements seriously, he said, officials believe it is safe to allow child care programs to reopen starting June 1.
"To be clear: we are not requiring them to be open," he said.
Beginning May 18, they will be able to start transitioning, such as bringing back staff and getting programs ready.
As of Friday morning, Vermont was reporting 53 deaths from COVID-19, with 919 total cases.
Summer day camps will also be allowed to open this year, and teams at the state level will be providing guidance to help keep kids and employees safe, Scott said.
As meeting health and safety expectations can be a financial challenge, Scott said the state is also creating restart grants that will provide about $6 million to child care programs and summer day camps, to help cover the cost of meeting such requirements, he said.
Child care providers will also be included in the state's expanded testing and tracing program, he said.
Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said child care providers are encouraged to begin planning now, so they can open as smoothly as possible.
Updated guidance for child care programs and youth programs, including day camps, will be coming next week, and will be built off guidance for child care programs that have been operating during the COVID-19 crisis, caring for the children of essential workers, Smith said.
"We will work with programs that do open to help you through the transition," he said. "We know many have made plans to open and serve our kids and families, and we are grateful for everything you are doing."
Further information and guidance on the restart grants will also be coming next week, Smith said.
He said he's told his team that he wants this program to be in place as quickly as possible, to support the June timeline.
Ted Brady, deputy secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said at the press conference that summer camps are a necessity for thousands of Vermonters, and they "simply need to reopen if we expect the economy to reopen."
Opening overnight camps, he said, will be more complicated, but the ACCD is working on that, including looking at guidance provided by the American Camp Association and the YMCA.
"Obviously, the largest difference is that overnight camps also serve out-of-state residents," Brady said. "And that fact is going to require additional mitigation."
But, he said, officials believe overnight summer camps will be able to operate — although looking different than they have in the past — this summer, and guidance will be issued on that "in the coming weeks."
In response to a question, Smith said testing for COVID-19 will be offered on a voluntary basis to summer day camp providers and child care providers, and that will start before June 1.
Those who have been caring for essential workers' children will have testing priority.
Guidance issued in March for child care and schools providing child care for essential people calls for no more than 10 people in a classroom at a time, including teachers.
"We are continuing looking at the guidance to see if there's opportunities to increase that number, because we realize that in some cases, that's not going to be viable," Smith said.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation who is leading the state's COVID-19 modeling efforts, also provided an update at the press conference on the disease data and modeling in Vermont.
The number of days it takes for cases of COVID-19 in Vermont to double remains steady; cases are not estimated to double for 84 days. Initially, cases were doubling every three days.
"Our actual experience continues to perform better than forecasts," Pieciak said. "A key contributor to this outcome is Vermonters."
Updated mobility data shows the "story of sacrifice," with Vermonters continuing to limit their travel outside their homes, he said.
In the 18 days since the state took its first step in reopening, Vermont's COVID-19 growth rate has also remained steady, hovering around 1 percent.
The state also has fewer active COVID-19 cases than it did in late March, and officials expect this trend to continue, Pieciak said.
For the first time, this week's modeling presentation also presented possible restart scenarios for Vermont.
Under the first scenario — a return to "near normal" — Vermont would be on track to likely overwhelm hospital capacity by mid-summer, Pieciak said.
But another scenario — with non-essential in-person work resuming for about 50 percent of the workforce with appropriate preventative measures in place — shows it's possible to open the economy safely, Pieciak said.
These additional measures include masks, behavioral changes, and contact tracing and testing, according to the presentation.
The state has recently announced a plan to ramp up contact tracing and testing.
"New cases remain in decline as we stand to increase our testing and contact tracing capacity," Pieciak said. "Vermont can continue to strategically plan to reopen."
Pieciak also identified four important data points in monitoring COVID-19 as Vermont restarts: the percent of emergency visits with COVID-19-like illness or flu diagnosis, case growth rates, percentage of tests that are positive for COVID-19, and the number of occupied and unoccupied medical surgical and ICU beds.
These metrics are important for tracking possible outbreaks of COVID-19, indicating whether the coronavirus is growing or declining, giving context that Vermont is testing a wide sample of individuals and indicating hospital resource capacity for critically ill COVID-19 patients, respectively, according to the presentation.
The presentation also identifies several warning signs in relation to these indicators: a sustained trend upward of emergency visits with COVID-19-like illness or flu diagnosis, a sustained growth rate of COVID-19, percent positive tests in excess of 8 percent and exceeding 70 percent of hospital capacity.
Recent projections have also continued to show the state is not on track to exceed staffed beds for COVID-19 patients, staffed ICU capacity or available ventilators, under low, mid or high-need scenarios.
Modeling has indicated that deaths in Vermont from COVID-19 could have reached 2,000 by the end of April, if mitigation measures hadn't been imposed, Pieciak has said.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at email@example.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
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