There’s hopeful news this week that across the country and in Vermont, the Omicron surge is easing, and COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are declining. Our school’s positivity rate since the start of January 2022 averaged 1.1% (there were 4 positive cases out of 357 students tested in school).
Vermont Governor Phil Scott and his administration will be meeting on February 28 to revisit the state’s universal masking mandate. He has not committed to revoking the school mask requirement, but he noted that other states have lifted mask mandates despite having caseloads higher than Vermont’s.
It’s important for me to say at the outset that our school is not making any hard and fast decisions. We are reviewing our procedures carefully and thoughtfully, meeting with staff, and taking measured steps to prepare for changes, as we have done throughout the pandemic when changes have been warranted.
The Endemic Phase of COVID-19
As Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in a press conference at the beginning of February: “Many of us in public health believe Omicron has hastened our pathway to the endemic state, meaning a time when the virus is constantly present in our population, a permanent or hopefully milder part of our lives.”
Vermont Governor Phil Scott stated at a press conference this week: “We’re evolving from pandemic to endemic right before our eyes.”
To Mask or Not to Mask?
That is the question we will be facing in the weeks and months ahead. As many of you may have heard, earlier this week, Massachusetts announced that it would be lifting indoor masking restrictions (including in schools) on February 28th. I suspect Vermont will not be far behind.
When Vermont lifts its masking requirement for schools, it does not mean that our school will follow suit immediately. We will look at a number of factors before we make any changes to our current policies. This will be a combination of regional positivity rate, the number of identified cases within the school, and our overall vaccination rate. If we do make masking optional, we can always pivot back to masking if the numbers shift or if we have a positive case in a particular class. We will also continue to ensure that students and staff still feel welcome and comfortable to wear their masks while at school even if the masking requirement is lifted.
Included here is an excerpt from The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that helps explain their reasoning for lifting the mask mandate:
Data collected over the past few months from the Test and Stay program is compelling around what it reveals about school safety. Students and staff individually identified as asymptomatic close contacts and repeatedly tested in school through Test and Stay test negative more than 90 percent of the time. As of January 9, 503,312 Test and Stay tests had been conducted; 496,440 of them were negative (almost 99 percent).
Here at the Village School, our Surveillance Testing and Test to Stay data is just as strong as an indicator (click here to see the Village School’s data).
Test at Home Will Replace Test to Stay
As of this week, independent schools were invited to enroll in Vermont’s “Test at Home” program, a regimen that public schools have been using for several weeks instead of “Test to Stay.” This program allows schools to distribute rapid antigen tests to families to use at home after a Covid-19 exposure at school or outside of school.
We expect to receive our first shipment of tests next week. In the meantime, it’s important for you to know that your student’s vaccination status plays a role in the Test at Home program, because a student’s vaccination status is a guiding factor for how many antigen tests a student will need to do at home after a potential exposure. We will explain more about this new program in a communication next week. You can also read about this program online at https://education.vermont.gov/press-release/vermont-updates-test-home-program-k-12-schools.
Is Your Student Vaccinated?
In order to prepare for the COVID-19 protocol transitions ahead and the potential changing of masking requirements at our school, it is important for our school health office to know if your student is vaccinated. Ultimately, this will also help us determine our school’s vaccination rate, which may be used as a deciding factor for certain decisions that need to be made.
If your student is fully vaccinated, and you haven’t already notified us, we would appreciate your help voluntarily sharing this information so that we have the most up-to-date data for our students.
Please complete the Village School’s attestation form for your vaccinated student(s) once they are fully vaccinated. A student is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine or after they have received a booster if their original vaccination has expired.
When returning the attestation form, please provide a copy of their vaccination cards as well. You can email these documents to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax it to the main office at (802)447-2397, or send the copies in a sealed envelope for your student’s teacher to provide to the office.
Have a Good Weekend!
I realize this is a LOT of information to take in. The changes ahead are likely to cause some feelings of apprehension among both families and staff. This is understandable, as we begin to change from a pandemic mindset to an endemic mindset. Change is never easy, but one helpful way to manage change is to stay informed; and this is why I am sharing the information in this letter and will continue to keep you updated as we move forward step by step. Please reach out to me, Nurse Kaitlyn Hewson, or Covid Specialist Kim Krall at anytime with your questions or concerns.