With the start of the school year fast approaching, Vermont health officials are considering a universal flu vaccine requirement for all K-12 students.
"A policy decision of whether to do so is still under consideration, driven as always by the data and science," Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Friday. "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."
No decision has been made yet, Levine said, noting that only one state in the country - Massachusetts - has moved to require the vaccinations.
Vermont's primary focus will be to increasing the rate of vaccination, especially among children and teens. Last year, only 42.6% of children ages 5-12 and 35.5% of 13 to 17-year-old youths received the flu vaccine.
"We can and must do better," Levine said. "We're going to be discussing over the next few weeks the great importance of keeping the rate of flu in Vermont as low as possible to ensure that we don't face a so-called twin-demic of both flu and COVID cases concurrently, this fall and winter."
Meanwhile, several colleges in Vermont have students in isolation or quarantine as they test and trace positive coronavirus cases, officials said Friday. About 15,000 students from out-of-state are filing into Vermont for college this semester, and around 9,000 have already arrived.
Schools are conducting baseline day-zero testing and day-seven testing when students arrive from out of state, per state guidelines. Of the nearly 8,700 tests that have been conducted across all colleges in the state, only 19 positives have been reported so far.
"As they ramp up this year, I just want people to know that in public health we continue to work very closely with their administrations, and their student health teams to keep students, staff, faculty, and, importantly, the communities, healthy," Levine said.
When it comes to elementary and secondary education, about 65% of all students in Vermont schools will learn online at least three days a week, according to officials. Public schools in Vermont are slated to start by Sept. 8.
State officials teased an interactive map, to be published next week, which will show reopening plans for each of the K-12 school districts with links that detail the number of days districts plan to be remote or in-person. The map will continue to be updated throughout the school year with data from the districts and information on how learning models develop.
Vermont continues to show positive trends with regards to coronavirus cases, but they are tracking potential outbreaks of less than six cases in some communities.
Officials boasted the best coronavirus metrics in the U.S., reporting 50 new cases this week, down from 60 new cases last week. Vermont continues to maintain the lowest per capita infection rate in the country since the start of pandemic, the lowest positivity rate and the lowest infection rate in the nation for the last seven days across the country.
"Vermont - as compared to other states - we've been spared some of the worst of the devastation seen in this crisis," Gov. Phil Scott said Friday. "There's no denying that our success is a result of Vermonters dedication, perseverance, and commitment to one another."
Scott also announced $275 million in grants to help make sure the foundation of the health care system is maintained and $28 million in hazard pay for health care workers. The funds are part of a continued attempt by Scott to assuage the strain placed on the state's economy by the pandemic.
"Our work to restore the fiscal foundation of our state - and put the families who count on us and who we need - must and will continue," Scott said.