Covid-19 updates, Featured

Delta has landed — are local schools ready?

By Curt Peterson

With 78 Covid cases confirmed in Vermont schools this week alone, local schools are scrambling to deal with the highly contagious Delta variant.

The Dept. of Health daily dashboard indicates the general population in some local towns has been exposed in large numbers to the variant.

In the latest town-by-town data, covering Aug. 26-Sept. 8 by cases per 10,000 people, Bridgewater has 20-40, Woodstock 10-20, and Windsor over 80. The other towns in local districts have experienced fewer cases.

Data also show a sharp statewide increase in children testing positive for the virus in the last 14 days. (See story on page 10).

During his press conference Sept. 14, Gov. Scott urged school districts to require vaccination for all school staff.

Two of Windsor County’s school districts, Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCUUSD) and Windsor South East Supervisory Union (WSESU), are focusing their efforts on making schools safe places for pre-Kindergarten through 12th Grade students.

Sherry Sousa, superintendent at WCUUSD, said a few faculty and staff in her district, which includes Killington, Plymouth, Bridgewater, Pomfret, Barnard, Woodstock, Reading and Pittsfield, have been exposed to the virus, but none has tested positive.

But, Sousa told the Mountain Times, “All have complied with the quarantining protocol and have been tested.”

No students in the WCUUSD district have been affected so far, but, Sousa said, “We haven’t had enough days in school yet to see the full impact of Delta on our student and faculty attendance.”

The district will be ready with a plan B, she said. “Teachers are preparing in case they, their students, or both, need to quarantine,” she advised. “They will have materials and lesson plans ready if that happens.”

Roughly 50% of WSESU students are, by age, ineligible for vaccines, according to Dr. David Baker, superintendent. Its 300 employees in the district’s four schools and administration office will be required to have at least one vaccination shot by this Friday, and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 29, he said.

The district is also monitoring the vaccination status of the 50% of students who are eligible.

Nicki Buck, Hartland Elementary School board chair, told the Mountain Times that one grade at Hartland Elementary had to be quarantined because of exposure after the school had been open only four days. “We are still in ‘pods,’ but that class had been allowed to mix [outside] at recess,” Buck said.

Hartland Elementary’s plan B went into effect. “[Affected students] are remote this week, with assignments and computer-based classroom. [They] can test on Thursday, hopefully get results Friday, and be back for in-person school next week,” she said. “I was hoping we would get further into the year, but that wasn’t in the cards with Delta. We need a vaccine for the under-12s.”

According to the Agency of Education website — CIC Health, an independent contractor — is organizing the testing and tracing protocols with local school districts, which are asked to designate a point person with whom CIC can communicate directly. Students, teachers and staff across the state can opt-in to surveillance testing weekly, with parental permission. The program is paid for entirely with federal Covid funds, with the exception of paid administrative time.

At WCUUSD, the start of surveillance testing has been postponed until Oct. 7.

“While we are still planning to participate in the state run program, we have delayed our start so that we can better understand the process before we jump right in,” explained Katie Burke, WCSU Covid-19 coordinator, in a newsletter to the school community, Sept. 9 . “The company that the state is contracting with has had some bumps in the road in terms of their process, and are working quickly to remedy the problems.”

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