MONTPELIER — With virus activity winding down in Vermont, state officials say they are now focusing on undoing the damage caused by the pandemic response.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly news conference Tuesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said as of last week, virus levels in the state were considered low. Levine said the most recent data show the state continuing on this trend.

He said the seven-day average for hospitalizations is currently 35. He said that average for those in the intensive-care unit was four people. Levine noted there has been one death from the virus thus far in the month of June.

He said emergency visits for those with virus-like symptoms are decreasing, as are virus levels found in wastewater.

Scott said while the virus isn’t going away, the state now has more tools and experience to manage it. The governor said as the situation continues to improve, it’s important to also work to “reverse the harms” the mitigation measures put in place have caused.

“This includes learning loss, as well as social and emotional ramifications for our kids. A strain on our educators and health care workers. The mental health and substance abuse challenges that worsened during the pandemic. And the emotional turmoil everyone has gone through after many, many months of uncertainty and fear,” Scott said.

He said addressing these impacts is a high priority for his administration.

Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson said her agency is focused on three areas of concern.

Samuelson said the first is addressing the increase in substance use and acute mental health challenges that the state is seeing every day. She said the second is to stabilize the health care system and its workforce. And she said the third is the need to support families facing new and growing challenges, including housing insecurity.

Samuelson said the state will follow residents seeking access to mental health services and will work to reduce the number of deaths caused by suicide and drug overdose.

“We were able to make a difference in these key measures before the pandemic and we were beginning to see signals that they were declining. But we have lost ground over the past two years,” she said.

Education Secretary Dan French said the state has received federal pandemic relief dollars that need to be spent by September 2024. French said the challenge is to make sure this money addresses the immediate needs of students while also making sure they have a long-term impact on improving the state’s education system.

He said about $280 million the state has received for education will help pay for the recovery efforts. French said 10% of that money goes to his agency while the rest will be distributed directly to school districts.

He said the state has a recovery plan in place, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Education in December.

“And now every single school district in the state has an educational recovery plan and those plans are posted on each school district website,” French said, adding his agency’s website has links to all local plans.

He said the state plans to use its money to guide and focus the use of local dollars to maximize impact.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

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