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Scott Administration Considers Flu Vaccine Mandate For Vermont Children

Gov. Phil Scott at a media briefing earlier this month. Administration officials said Friday that the return of students to college campuses in Vermont hasn't had an impact on overall COVID-19 infection rates in the state.
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Gov. Phil Scott at a media briefing earlier this month. Administration officials said Friday that the return of students to college campuses in Vermont hasn't had an impact on overall COVID-19 infection rates in the state.

The reopening of colleges and universities across Vermont doesn’t appear to be having any immediate impact on COVID-19 infection rates in the state, according to numbers compiled by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

Colleges and universities located in Vermont expect to welcome approximately 21,000 students back to campus this fall.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said more than 40% of those students have already arrived. And of the nearly 8,700 tests administered to students so far, Pieciak said 19 have come back positive.

“I think this is indicative of students following the pre-arrival quarantine guidance,” Pieciak said during a media briefing Friday. “They’re not coming with the virus as frequently as we thought they might, so … all of this, at least for the transition back to Vermont, is all a very good story so far.”

"They're not coming with the virus as frequently as we thought they might, so ... all of this, at least for the transition back to Vermont, is all a very good story so far." - Michael Pieciak, commissioner of financial regulation

Of the 21,000 students slated to attend Vermont colleges and universities this year, about 15,000 will come from out of state.

Pieciak said new modeling conducted by his department doesn’t forecast any dramatic spikes in COVID-19 infection rates as a result of the students’ arrivals. And he said the most recent coronavirus trends in Vermont bode well for a successful college reopening.

Vermont reported 50 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the past seven days, giving it the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the country over that time period.

More from VPR: Northfield Residents Stay Calm As Four Norwich Students Test Positive For COVID-19

Pieciak said Vermont also has the lowest per-capita infection rate in the nation since the start of the pandemic, and the smallest percentage of COVID-19 tests that yield a positive result.

“So really, against almost any metric that you can measure Vermont by, whether throughout the entire pandemic or more recently, Vermont continues to be the best in the nation,” Pieciak said Friday.

Public Schools

Kindergarten-through-12th grade schools in Vermont are scheduled to reopen Sept. 8. But new data from the Agency of Education show that the majority of students will spend most of their school days learning from home.

According to an analysis of school reopening plans across Vermont, 65% of districts will default to remote learning for three days a week or more.

Only 3% of districts plan a fulltime return to in-person learning.

The Scott administration projects that the remote learning programs will create demand for an additional 10,000 child care slots.

And while Gov. Phil Scott announced a plan last week to create 73 childcare “hubs” across the state, he said it’s unlikely those facilities will be in place by the beginning of the school year.

“We’re going to continue to be challenged to put this in place by Sept. 8,” Scott said Friday. “But … I think the progress we’ve made is pretty substantial.”

More from VPR: Staffing Remains A Top Concern As Vermont Child Care Centers Look To The Fall

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said that his agency currently has enough childcare provider resources to open eight hubs in six counties - Washington, Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, Windham and Windsor.

Smith said those hubs will be capable of accommodating about 1,800 new child care slots; well short of the 7,000-slot capacity the Scott administration is hoping to derive from the entire hub program.

Flu Vaccines

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine said Friday that he’s considering a policy that would require children to get flu vaccinations in order to be eligible to attend public schools in Vermont.

Levine said the confluence of COVID-19 and an active flu season could overwhelm health care resources and create a “twin-demic” for the state.

More from NPR: How Many Coronavirus Cases Are Happening In Schools? This Tracker Keeps Count

While Levine said he has no immediate plans to recommend a flu vaccine mandate, he said “a policy decision of whether to do so is under consideration, driven as always by the data and science.”

Levine said, “As a physician and a public health chief I would be shirking my responsibility to protect the health of Vermonters if we did not at least explore the merits, as well as the weaknesses of every potential public health intervention."

"So really, against almost any metric that you can measure Vermont by, whether throughout the entire pandemic or more recently, Vermont continues to be the best in the nation." - Michael Pieciak, commissioner of financial regulation

Massachusetts is the only state that currently requires students to get flu vaccines.

Levine said his department will, at a minimum, seek to increase vaccination rates among young people in Vermont.

Last year, according to Levine, 42.6% of 5- to-12-year-olds and 35.5% of our 13- to 17-year-olds received the flu vaccine.

“We can and must do better,” he said Friday.

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Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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