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Scott closes schools for the year

Gov. Phil Scott directed the end of the 2019-20 school year on Thursday as part of the state’s effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it caused, COVID-19.

Scott had already ordered schools to close from March 18 to April 6.

Under Scott’s directive, districts will close schools for in-person instruction through the end of the current school year. They will be required to implement remote learning plans created to assure “continuity of learning.”

To minimize disruption to students’ learning, school districts must have the plan in place for distance learning by April 13.

“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” Scott said in a statement. “I also recognize it will be challenging for some schools to implement remote learning through the end of the year. But I’m encouraged by the creativity I’ve seen from administrators, educators and parents already, which is why I know, together, they can rise to the occasion.”

In a separate statement, Don Tinney, president of the Vermont National Education Association, or NEA, said teachers were “disappointed and saddened” but understand the health and safety needs at stake.

As of Thursday, the Vermont Department of Health had identified almost 160 cases of COVID from about 2,000 tests. In Vermont, nine people have died due to COVID..

“In the 10 days since schools have been closed to students, we have seen the remarkable resiliency, ingenuity, and dedication of this state’s teachers, para-educators, custodians, school nurses, food service workers, bus drivers, and administrators. We have also seen how patient, understanding, and forgiving parents have been. Most of all, we’ve seen our students, thrust into a world like they’ve never experienced, adapt and survive in remarkable ways,” Tinney said in a statement.

In his administration’s press release, Scott noted some school districts have set up “creative and critically-needed” programs to offer onsite care for students whose parents are working on the frontlines in this response. Scott ordered those steps last week.

“These educators and staff who are finding ways to support these families have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts and I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service. These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system,” Scott said.

The agency of education will provide technical guidance to districts by the end of the week, specifically looking to address challenges around equitable access to learning opportunities, Free and Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, programs for students with disabilities, continuation of school meals and school attendance and school calendar requirements.

The Department for Children and Families will provide updated reimbursement provisions for providers, both those who are and are not providing health care under Scott’s directives.

Tinney, a high school English teacher who leads the 13,000-member Vermont NEA, said residents should remember teachers would rather be in school with students than working from home or in buildings with no children.

“I think a note from a fellow teacher says it all: ‘I miss my students. I miss them walking in my room all grumpy and coaxing a smile out of them and I miss them walking into my classroom beaming with some great news or amazing accomplishment. I think that’s the hardest part of this. I miss my students,’” he said.

According to a news release from the Scott administration sent on Thursday evening, the closure decision was made in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education.

This article will be updated on Friday.


Spring thaw

Ice has begun to melt in Townsend Brook in Pittsfield.

35 more COVID-19 cases; another Vt. death reported

Another 35 patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were identified by the Vermont Department of Health on Thursday.

Vermont has identified nine deaths caused by COVID-19. There was one more reported in the past day.

The total number of positive COVID-19 tests for Vermont on Thursday was 158, out of 2,008 tests. The number of cases reported Wednesday was 123.

Also on Thursday, the health department urged caution on using certain drugs to treat or prevent COVID-19.

“At this time, the U.S. Drug Administration has not approved any drugs specifically for the treatment of patients with COVID-19,” the release stated.

Anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, among others, have been widely discussed as potential treatments. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has said there is not enough data.

“In fact, there are significant potential risks to taking such drugs, including death,” the release stated.

Most people who get COVID-19 can manage their symptoms at home with rest, drinking fluids and taking fever-reducing medication, according to the health department.

Patients should talk to a health care provider before taking any substance alleged to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Health care providers were asked not to prescribe these drugs unless they’re for patients with diagnosed conditions, and not for prevention, to help maintain the supply for Vermonters who need them.

On Thursday, the Health Department website added several new sections.

One, “Ask a Question,” allows visitors to type questions about COVID-19 in Vermont into a box. The question will be answered with the currently available information, according to the health department’s daily update.

Another new page was added to meet the specific needs of health care providers. It includes current guidance, health alerts and resources for protecting patients and health care workers in different settings.

The third new set of set of pages include fact sheets with COVID-19 information for health care workers, in addition to Vermonters who are awaiting test results for COVID-19, diagnosed with COVID-19 or a close contact of someone with COVID-19.