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ACSD students to begin school year with masks

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District community will be expected to wear masks indoors for at least the first 10 days of classes this fall, in order to give officials a chance to calculate the percentage of eligible students who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Addison Central officials are busy drafting a complete list of COVID-19 protocols that will be sent to school families next week. Superintendent Peter Burrows, ACSD lead nurse Kelly Landwehr, and the district’s recovery team are at the forefront of the planning. They’ll be taking into consideration (among other things) school vaccination rates and the latest guidance from the Vermont Department of Health, the Vermont Agency of Education and the CDC.

One of the protocols is already locked in, according to Burrows.

“Right now, given that the guidance states that all students start school with a mask, at least for the first 10 days, and we’re definitely going to be doing that,” he told the ACSD Board on Monday. “We are talking about all the other little pieces.”

New protocols have taken on a sense of urgency given the rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus that’s been infecting an increasing number of people — primarily among the unvaccinated.

“The last couple of weeks, as we’ve seen Delta start to be more present, I think people are now in this kind of interim state of either feeling more relaxed and a little nervous, or more nervous and a little relaxed,” Burrows said.

The DOH and Agency of Education on Aug. 4 issued a series of COVID-19 prevention measures for the fall of 2021 that can be found at tinyurl.com/ydxccju6. In addition to the mask guideline, school districts are being asked to tell students and staff to stay home if they feel sick, and to participate in surveillance testing and contact tracing.

Masks should no longer be required following the first 10 instructional days of the academic year in schools where the vaccination rate (two doses of a two-dose vaccine) among students is equal to or greater than 80% of the school’s currently eligible population, according to the new prevention measures.

Burrows believes “well over” 80% of the district’s eligible student population has been vaccinated.

He cautioned the rules could tighten at any time, depending on how COVID-19 behaves.

Addison County has logged 31 new COVID cases during the past two weeks, including three on Wednesday, according to the Vermont Department of Health. The county has registered 1,126 cases since the pandemic began last February.

Statewide, Vermont reported 85 cases on Wednesday, Aug. 11, and a total of 25,757 since the start of the pandemic. The DOH reported 21 people hospitalized due to the coronavirus, with five of those in intensive care.

As of this writing, 84.6% of Vermonters 12 and older have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. In Addison County, 83.1% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the DOH.

District officials are learning exact vaccination rates within the school community could be tricky. There’s a state registry revealing which students have been vaccinated, but not for school staff, Burrows noted.

“Vermont hasn’t waded into that yet; other states have,” he said of vaccination info for educators.

Burrows added some states — like New York — have adopted a policy requiring educators to get vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing. The University of Vermont Health Network, which includes Porter Medical Center, last week announced that policy for its workers.

ACSD board member Barb Wilson of Shoreham said the district should err on the side of caution.

“A number of (constituents) did reach out to me, and the vast majority are saying ‘masks,’ especially for the elementary kids and the population that isn’t vaccinated,” she told her colleagues.

“Delta is a game-changer, unfortunately.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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