Vermont to Report Combined Student, Staff Coronavirus Case Numbers in Schools

Vermont officials would not report student cases separately from staff cases, by grade level or class and would withhold data from schools with less than 25 people

With school starting next week in Vermont, officials detailed their approach to reporting coronavirus data among districts and gave an update on the state's effort to expand childcare programs.

"Whether it's K-12 schools, childcare, higher-ed, retail, manufacturing or health care, throughout this crisis we've seen there are simply no easy answers because none of this is ideal and there is no road map to this once-in-a-century crisis," Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday. "But Vermonters ingenuity, nimbleness and a long history of neighbors helping neighbors has gotten us to this point and will see us through in the months ahead."

State officials are designing a data reporting tool to notify the public about COVID-19 cases in schools.

"We are seeking to design an approach that strikes a balance between student and staff privacy with the needs of parents and a larger community to understand the public health trends," Agency Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

Currently, officials are planning to report the total positive number of cases in a school, combining the number of student and staff cases. This means the state would not report student cases separately from staff cases, and would not report student cases by grade level or class.

Due to an enhanced privacy concern for small schools in Vermont, the state is planning to withhold data on schools that have a combined student staff population have fewer than 25 people, which represents about 15 schools in the state.

"Until we have a vaccine, we will likely have COVID-19 cases in our communities, which means we expect COVID-19 cases in our schools. We can minimize the likelihood of the disease entering our schools, however, if every Vermonter does his or her part," Smith said. "Our goal is not just to reopen our schools, but to keep them open, and to provide learning opportunities equal to, if not better than those provided before the emergency started. This will require everyone to work together."

The state is also collecting data on school reopening plans and how they change over time in order to monitor progress on learning opportunities. Officials revealed a demo of an interactive map displaying the data last week, which will officially launch in late September.

Additionally, the state has identified 12 potential regional childcare hubs for school-aged children on remote learning days as part of an initiative Scott announced last month to expand access to childcare. These hub sites combined could provide approximately 2,300 childcare slots, or the capacity to serve 4,600 children because of schools with split attendance schedules.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Department of Health are still investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 cases associated with people who attended a private party at the Summit Lodge in Killington on Aug. 19. To date, officials have identified 14 cases among people who were at the party and among their close contacts, which means the virus has spread to people who were not at the party.

"I understand this news potentially could be yet another worry for people in the community, but as I've said before, the efforts to contain outbreaks - whether we're talking measles, Ebola or COVID-19 - this is what we do," Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. "We have systems in place to address public health situations, even ones that take a long time, like pandemics."

Contact tracing teams have been working to reach more than 40 people who went to the party, Levine said. Anyone who went to the party but hasn't been in touch with the Health Department is being asked to call 802-863-7240.

People who attended the event should also take steps to limit any possible exposure to others, according to Levine, because people can spread the virus without showing symptoms. A pop-up testing clinic is scheduled for Wednesday in Rutland.

The state has said the Summit Lodge followed proper protocols and has been cooperating.

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