Vermont will implement a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning when students pre-K-12 go back to school this fall, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday.
"Classrooms will not look the same," Scott said Friday. "There are going to be many public health measures we must implement to reopen safely, and just like other areas, it will require problem solvers by teachers and local leaders because it’s not just going to be a simple return to the status quo."
State officials are currently developing guidelines for schools to prepare to reopen, which Scott said will be informed by science and data.
“It wont be easy, but a lot of work has already been done,” Scott said. “We have six more weeks to get ready and we have a lot of common ground that we can build on to help kids succeed.”
Dr. William Raszka, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Vermont, pointed to studies that found children are less likely to be infected with the coronavirus, commonly experience less severe cases and are less likely to transmit the virus. Facial coverings will be a "big part" of any school reopening policy, Raszka added.
Other safety protocols in schools will include testing people who show coronavirus symptoms and maintaining physical distance. When cases do crop up, the state will conduct contact tracing to preventing further spread.
"We need to aim for and plan for school openings because, if our data shows we can do it safely, it’s the very best option for our kids," Scott said. "Kids need the structure, the relationships with their peers, their teachers and other adults for academic, social and emotional development."
In Vermont, children up to 9-years-old make up three percent of all cases, while children ages 10 through 19 make up about seven percent of cases, according to health officials.
"I know there are many teachers, administrators and other school staff as well as many parents and kids who have concerns about what this might look like and the potential risks," Scott said.
A coronavirus "forest fire," crossing the southern and western parts of the country is of concern, Scott noted, promising to keep a "close eye," on the situation and make changes if necessary.
In Florida, one of the hardest hit states in recent weeks, authorities reported a record 156 new coronavirus-related deaths Thursday. The U.S. has now reached more than 3.5 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 138,000 deaths.
"Just like I have done throughout pandemic, I am watching the data and listening to experts," Scott said. Metrics including the rate of viral growth and positive test results in Vermont largely remain within goal percentages.
Meanwhile, Vermont awaits results of hundreds of tests to determine the size of a potential outbreak.
As of Friday, 17 out of the 59 people who showed positive results through antigen tests, a faster but less reliable method, took the more accurate PCR test. Of those 17 people, 15 tested negative and two tested positive, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said.
"What does this mean?" Levine posed. "Although our investigation is not complete, it appears many of the positive antigen results reported by the Manchester Medical Clinic might have been false negatives."
Antigen tests are not recommended for people without symptoms, Levine said, and many of the 59 people who tested positive did not have symptoms. Testing clinics were run Wednesday in Manchester and Londonderry.
All the potentially positive cases are being treated as though they are confirmed positives, according to the Health Department. People are being told to stay home and contact tracers are seeking the sources of the possible infections.