About two-thirds of Vermont’s schoolchildren this year will engage in at least partial remote learning, and that’s expected to strain demand on childcare providers.
“We can see early on at least as things stand now, about 65 percent of all students in Vermont are going to be remote, at least three days a week,” Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak said Friday during the governor’s regular news briefing.
“That is something that is interesting for us to look at and will help us model out the likelihood of a successful K-through-12 reopening,” he said.
Mike Smith, Vermont’s secretary of the Agency of Human Services, answered a question regarding how they will meet the increased demand.
“We’re anticipating about 10,000 [in new demand] — 3,000 through existing programs and 7,000 through the hub programs,” he said. “We had an early look at some of the sort of remote activities that were happening and took a guess. We think we’re going to be pretty close to what we need. Just so you know, that’s almost doubling the existing system. I think we have about 12,000 slots right now.”
Staffing these childcare centers could become a tough challenge. Some childcare professionals are commenting that it is very difficult to find help to meet the current demand.
Another drawback of remote learning is participation is difficult to enforce. For example, in New York City at least 23 percent of high schoolers aren’t participating in the online programs according to the state’s estimates.
On the college front, COVID-19-related mandates are also causing problems. Many college students from out of state are being asked not to return back home during the semester or they will be asked to undergo quarantine. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine spoke to this during Friday’s press conference.
“On travel policies for the student body and their faculty they’ve been very restrictive about that, because they recognize that these students are essentially Vermonters because they’ve tested negative coming in, and now they are part of the environment here in Vermont,” he said. “We want to preserve that, and the only way to preserve that is to prohibit them from going back to the areas where there might be higher prevalence.”
Levine continued that many college students are opting to compress their semesters in order to be able to get back to their families in time for Thanksgiving.
“So that means, of course, they are leaving right before Thanksgiving and they are not coming back, so they are losing some vacation time between the start of school and Thanksgiving,” he said.
In Vermont, travelers can leave the state and come back if they are visiting counties that have low cases of the virus. A map detailing each county in the Northeast shows counties in green are OK to visit, while the others require a 14-day quarantine.
These and other restrictions continue even as Vermont continues to have some of the lowest death and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 in the nation. The state has had no new deaths in the past two weeks, and only three people are hospitalized with coronavirus.
Pieciak broke down some of the numbers Friday.
“Things across the country are relatively stable. The only places where cases are increasing is in the Midwest,” he said. “There are a few states where people have some concern, but largely cases have continued to slowly inch down.
“We look closer to home, we do see that our cases did increase this week in the region — up about seven-and-a-half percent. That’s breaking a four-week trend of decreasing cases, but when you look at the individual states there’s nothing particularly concerning across our region.”
High case numbers may not mean a lot of people are getting sick. According to an Ochsner Hospital study in New Orleans of COVID 19 in early July involving 2,640 participants, about three-quarters of all COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic, meaning the patient may carry the virus but has no symptoms.
Asymptomatic carriers may not be common spreaders of the virus. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for COVID-19, stated that the spreading of COVID-19 through asymptomatic carriers is “very rare.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott continues to say he’s doing what he can to reopen the economy.
“So if we can continue along this path to get through the humps that I talked about in terms of opening up the colleges and the universities, and the K-through-12 get more in-person education, then we will continue to expand [and] we can continue to open up the economy and broaden that out more as we see fit.”