The Scott administration is formally advising that Vermonters — in schools and elsewhere — resort to personal choice when it comes to wearing a face mask or not, be it indoors or outdoors.
“On March 14 our guidance around masking will be updated both in schools and for all Vermonters,” state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said. “The decision to wear a mask will be up to each person based on their own circumstances and health needs. As Dr. Levine has already said, we all have different levels of risk and we need to navigate them in our own way at our pace.”
Other policy recommendations were updated, including if someone tests positive for the virus, the person is recommended to stay home for five days. The door was left open for future COVID regulations.
“If a new variant emerges that is cause for concern, we’ll revisit public health guidance,” Kelso said.
Secretary of Education Dan French reiterated that schools will be expected to let individuals choose their own masking policies.
“Our goal has been to eliminate separate mitigation recommendations for schools and instead have them follow the broader recommended mitigations for all Vermonters,” French said. “This idea of eliminating school-specific guidance was endorsed by the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and recently U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.”
He said the shift will help to refocus on students’ education needs.
“Making this shift will allow us to put a higher priority on addressing the learning and social-emotional needs of our students,” he said. “So starting March 14, we will not recommend schools follow any additional mitigations or requirements other than those that are being recommended for all Vermonters. This means masks will be optional for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status and this will apply to school buses as well.”
He added that individual school administrations can still adopt their own masking policies. He also said testing policies specific to schools would eventually be phased out as well.
In responding to a reporter, the governor weighed in on getting schools back to normal.
“I think it’s time that we get back to some kind of normal,” Gov. Phil Scott said. “For kids, in particular, [they can] see their classmates’ faces again, their facial expressions, to socially interact, and not be in a constant state of fear.”
Scott was asked about younger children who can’t be vaccinated. He responded that natural immunity may be offering more protection to unvaccinated populations than previously thought.
“I saw some percentage that was surprising in some respects because Omicron has been so transmissible and so mild that I’m not sure that we even knew that kids had it,” Scott said.
Kelso agreed on this point.
“Overall what we’ve seen with Omicron and COVID in general since 2019 is that it does not cause severe illness in the vast majority of children who are otherwise healthy,” she said. “And discussions that I’ve had with pediatric infectious disease healthcare providers … they think it’s somewhat likely that some percentage of that age group of kids will get COVID, but they are not really concerned about them having a severe illness or lots of them ending up in the hospital.”
In recent press conferences, the administration has had to repeatedly remind the public that all COVID policies since the end of the state of emergency declaration from last year have been recommendations.
“When we do make that recommendation it will be just that — a recommendation,” French said two weeks back, in regards to previous masking policies.