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Vermont Gets 12 Child Care 'Hubs' Set Up, 20 More In Progress

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In addition to providing other updates at a Tuesday press briefing, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said he was troubled by media reports insinuating COVID death numbers are inflated and a "hoax."

With schools set to reopen next week, the Scott administration says the state has approved 12 new education “hubs” to provide child care services, with another 20 in progress.

The hubs will initially serve 6,000 students and are designed for students whose schools do not fully open for in-person learning.

Human Services Mike Smith said at the administration’s Tuesday news briefing that the state faced enormous challenges to locate and staff the proposed 73 hubs in time for the Sept. 8 school start.

“Remember what we’re doing here,” he said. “We’re putting a whole new child care system in place in a couple of weeks. And that is something I don’t think we’ve ever done as a state.”

More from VPR: Gov. Announces Child Care Initiative For School-Aged Children

Many of the new centers are located at schools which will do distance learning or will only partially reopen next week.

Smith said parents are expected to pay for the child care service, although some state subsidies are available based on a sliding income scale. He acknowledged that will be an additional cost for families who previously did not have to pay for their child to go to public school, apart from property taxes.

“There will be an extra cost,” Smith said. “We’re trying to minimize the extra cost as we’re designing the system. Are there issues of inequity? This initiative frankly is not intended to solve the preexisting challenges that the system is facing. Rather it is intended right now to provide additional capacity around the state based on the need we’re seeing.”

"This initiative frankly is not intended to solve the preexisting challenges that the system is facing. Rather it is intended right now to provide additional capacity around the state based on the need we're seeing." — Human Services Secretary Mike Smith

Killington party outbreak update

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine also provided an update on an outbreak of COVID-19 stemming from an Aug. 19 private party at the Summit Lodge in Killington.

Levine said so far, 14 cases have been attributed to the party which was attended by 40 people, but more cases are expected. He said the lodge followed the proper health protocols, including providing sanitizers and getting the name of everyone who attended.

More from VPR: Killington Party At The Center Of New COVID-19 Outbreak

He said some of the people reached by the state’s contact tracing team have not been as cooperative, adding that was in contrast to the state’s previous efforts at contact tracing.

“With the universe of all the outbreaks we've done, I would say it has been an extraordinarily, positive experience here in Vermont,” he said. “Going to this specific outbreak, there are a few noteworthy instances where it was not as positive as we've enjoyed elsewhere.”

Administration denounces COVID "hoax"

Levine and Gov. Phil Scott also used the briefing to knock down reports widely circulated in conservative media that the number of reported COVID deaths are inflated because the people who died also had other health problems, like heart disease or diabetes.

Levine said he was very concerned at how “armchair epidemiologists and armchair physicians” are reporting the data. He said it is true that many of the people who died from COVID also lived with other underlying conditions.

“But I have to make it clear that many of these people would not have died this year if COVID was not here,” he said. “They’ve had this burden of disease that they’ve lived with for sometimes months, sometimes years, sometimes decades. COVID tipped them over. It was overwhelming and their system could not handle it.”

"These are people who died and would not have died otherwise were there not COVID on the planet." — Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine

Levine decried media reports of a COVID hoax. He said people who died with “co-morbidities” – other health conditions – did indeed die because of COVID.

“These are people who died and would not have died otherwise were there not COVID on the planet,” he said. He then asked for a moment of silence for the 58 Vermonters who have died from the disease. 

Steve Merrill, the reporter for NEK-TV who asked the question, did not give Levine the moment he asked for, but proceeded to ask another queston.

"Sometimes we get complacent because we see that we're doing well. That's my fear, that we believe our own magic and then we don't believe that there's a problem." — Gov. Phil Scott

Gov. Scott returned to the "hoax" issue later in the news briefing. The governor said shutting down the economy to prevent the spread of the virus went against everything his nature, but it was absolutely necessary to protect public health. He pointed to Hawaii, which had one of the lowest COVID numbers in the nation, but is now seeing cases multiply rapidly. 

Vermonters must remain vigilant to avoid the same thing happening here, Scott said.

“But sometimes we get complacent because we see that we're doing well. That's my fear," he said, "that we believe our own magic and then we don't believe that there's a problem."

Scott said he will not announce additional steps to relax COVID restrictions on businesses and public gatherings until he sees how the state does with schools reopening next week.

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