During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott called on Vermonters to work to undo the harms caused by the social and economic shut down he imposed following the onset of COVID-19 in 2020.
“It’s important we continue to work to reverse the harms resulting from some of the mitigation measures that were put into place before we had all these tools,” Scott said. “This includes learning loss as well as social and emotional ramifications for our kids, a strain on our educators and healthcare workers, mental health and substance abuse that worsened during that pandemic, and the emotional turmoil that everyone has gone through after many, many months of uncertainty and fear.”
Big changes in education and healthcare during the past two years have had unintended consequences, the governor said.
“The fact is some of the steps that we took, from remote learning to deferred health care and a general lack of human connection, have been difficult to overcome. But we need to do whatever we can to reverse these impacts,” he said.
Jenney Samuelson, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, detailed new challenges her agency faces as a result of the shutdowns.
“These have impacted our mental health, substance use, housing, child and family well-being, and the stability of our healthcare system,” she said.
Samuelson highlighted three areas of concern for the agency going forward.
“First, we must address the increase in the incidents of substance use and acute mental health challenges that we are seeing day to day in our communities,” she said, adding that staff would be following the progress of select Vermonters who are dealing with mental health challenges.
With regard to stabilizing the healthcare system and its workforce, Samuelson said the agency would monitor the number of staffed hospital beds available at a variety of facilities. On the issue of housing, she said officials would “continue to track the number of households that are using emergency housing programs and their ability to move to more prominent housing solutions.”
Also speaking at the media briefing was Secretary of Education Dan French, who discussed the need to spend one-time federal funds available through September 2024.
“The challenge before us now is to see if these one-time funds can not only address the immediate needs of students but also ensure they have a long-term impact on improving the quality of our education system,” he said.
French said about $280 million is yet to be spent for education.
“Part of the challenge is coordinating the use of state and local funds,” he said. “… Now every single school district in the state has an education recovery plan, and those plans are on each school district website.”
Immediate goals include countering the learning loss that occurred during the lockdowns, as well as addressing the social and emotional impacts that Vermont students encountered.
French also noted that staff shortages continue to be an issue across the state, saying “it’s critical that every school system have strong systems in place that will allow us to manage transitions of staff.”
The Scott administration’s concerns about the unintended consequences of the pandemic lockdown are not isolated. A new study reported by The Times in the UK suggests that children are having trouble talking properly — including, for some, speaking their own names properly.
“Children are arriving at school unable to say their own names or drink from cups, The Times Education Commission’s final report will reveal this week,” The Times reported.
The outgoing commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, Michael Schirling, participated in his last press conference for the state before taking a job at UVM. He shared kind words for his colleagues.
“Vermonters should know that they’ve got tremendous people working tirelessly for them every day,” he said.