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News Roundup: State Officials Ease Masking Mandates For Staff, Students In Vt. Schools

A sign, drawn in marker on a piece of white printer paper is taped to a school door and reads Thank you! Folsom Staff!
Abagael Giles
/
VPR
A sign on the entrance to Folsom Elementary School in South Hero thanks staff. State officials announced this week that unvaccinated school staff and students will no longer be required to wear masks, after Vt. reached its 80% vaccination benchmark Mon.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Wednesday, June 16.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:

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1. Vt. Dept. of Health reports 9 new COVID-19 cases

Nine new cases of COVID-19 were reported across Vermont Wednesday.

State health officials say two people are hospitalized due to COVID, one of whom is in intensive care.

In a tweet, Gov. Phil Scott announced 80.5% of eligible Vermonters have now been vaccinated, with more than 1,000 getting their first dose Tuesday.

- Matthew Smith

CCV will not require vaccination against COVID-19 for fall term

Students and faculty at the Community College of Vermont will not have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the fall term.

VTDigger reports CCV shared the policy with an email to faculty last week.

It puts CCV at odds with other schools in the Vermont State Colleges System.

Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College will all require students to get inoculated when federal officials give the vaccines full regulatory approval. The shots are currently only approved for emergency use.

Officials say CCV hasn't required proof of vaccinations in the past, and their non-residential programs and mostly part-time students are among the reasons it's not requiring inoculations.

The University of Vermont, Champlain College, Middlebury College, St. Michael’s College and Bennington College are among the Vermont schools requiring vaccines for the fall term.

- Matthew Smith

Maine's state of emergency set to expire June 30

Maine’s state of the emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic is entering its final two weeks.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills declared the state of civil emergency early in pandemic. Mills extended the order a final time on June 13.

Maine's emergency order will now end on June 30.

New Hampshire's state of emergency ended last Friday, June 11. Vermont's expired last night at midnight.

- The Associated Press

Three Vermont hospitals will continue requiring visitors wear masks

Three Vermont hospitals that are part of the University of Vermont Health Network will continue requiring visitors to wear masks, even as the state has lifted all of its pandemic health restrictions.

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, the Porter Medical Center in Middlebury and the Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin will continue to screen visitors for COVID-19 symptoms before entry .

Visitors will also be required to wear masks for the duration of their visits.

Dr. John Brumsted, president of the UVM Health Network, said in a statement the masks and screenings are to protect patients and staff.

- Matthew Smith

2. Masks will no longer be required by the state in Vermont schools

Unvaccinated school staff and students will not be required to wear masks in school.

That's according to new COVID-19 guidelines released by the state. The policy recommends, but does not mandate that unvaccinated individuals in Vermont's schools wear face coverings.

The new guidelines are linked to the state achieving its 80% vaccination rate earlier this week, which ended COVID restrictions.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says he's confident that even though vaccines aren't yet available for students under 12, students will be safe as long the state's infection rate remains low.

“Even though you have a population like the children under aged 12 that can't yet be vaccinated, they still are functioning in a very safe environment because there's less virus around to spread and that's really important,” Levine said.

Levine is hopeful that a vaccine will be available for children under 12 by the fall.

Listen to the full conversation.

- Bob Kinzel

Masks are still recommended indoors for unvaccinated children, adults

Vermont health commissioner Mark Levine says that children should continue to follow health guidelines even after the state has lifted all COVID-19 restrictions.

The CDC is expected to authorize the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 sometime this fall.

For now, Levine says children should continue to follow guidelines like wearing masks indoors.

“Kids in particular are in a bit of a gray area. Currently, we continue to recommend mask use by children under age 12, when indoors, because they are not yet able to be vaccinated,” Levine said Tuesday.

The Scott Administration is working with pediatricians across the state to plan for the vaccine rollout for kids.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. Health commissioner says access, not hesitancy, is the biggest reason some eligible Vermonters are still not vaccinated

The state of Vermont continues to make progress vaccinating members of the public.

On Monday, the state reached its 80% vaccination goal. Since then, more than 1,000 people have been vaccinated at walk in clinics.

Speaking on VPR's Vermont Edition on Wednesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said he thinks access to the vaccine is still the biggest factor that determines if a person will get vaccinated.

He also thinks the number of Vermonters who are philosophically opposed to the use of vaccines is smaller than in many other states.

“It doesn't seem like that's a large group of Vermont,” he said. “It seems like a more significant group is the group of people who just need the vaccine to be sort of in front of their face at the time. They haven't put it on their priority list."

The Scott Administration plans to continue to organize walk in clinics throughout Vermont for the next few weeks.

- Bob Kinzel

4. As state of emergency ends, questions emerge about housing, food assistance programs

A little more than 700 households are expected to lose their rooms in area motels as the state shuts down the emergency housing program that was started during the pandemic.

Human Service Secretary Mike Smith says most of those who lose housing will receive cash payments of up to $2,500, to help with moving and resettling costs.

“Our plan for transitioning away from the expanded motel voucher program has specific phases that were intended to avoid a cliff,” Smith said.

Smith said the state worked with advocates for the homeless to develop the transition plans.

The new guidelines will go into place on July 1.

More from VPR: ‘No Place To Go’: As State Of Emergency Ends, So Does Stable Housing For Some Vermonters

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Food security advocates raise concerns

Gov. Phil Scott has signed a new executive order that will allow Vermont to draw down FEMA funding, even after the state of emergency was lifted Tuesday.

But John Sayles of the Vermont Food Bank says he’s still worried about the future of food aid for low-income Vermonters.

“And the elimination of the emergency order just kind of increases that uncertainty in some areas,” Sayles said.

Emergency funding from the federal government has paid for a number of food programs during the pandemic.

Sayles says he doesn’t expect need for food assistance to diminish, even though the state of emergency has ended.

- Peter Hirschfeld

5. Vermont State Police return to pre-pandemic operations

The Vermont State Police are returning to pre-pandemic operations as the Vermont state of emergency expires.

Gov. Phil Scott said that means there will be more troopers out on the road.

“So I would advocate and advise people to slow down,” Scott said. “You are going to see more activity out on the highways in terms of the Vermont State Police.”

The State Police modified its operations to control the spread of COVID-19, and that meant fewer traffic stops on the highways.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

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