After hitting record highs last month, Covid-19 cases in Vermont are starting to decrease, as the Vermont Department of Health reported only two new cases of Covid-19 in Addison County on Feb. 22. According to an email from Middlebury Updates sent on Feb. 18, Addison County saw a 52-percent decrease in positive Covid-19 cases reported in the last week. New positive cases decreased by 23 percent in the broader Vermont area during the same time period, while hospitalizations and deaths have also declined in recent weeks.
This offers some relief for the state after the rapid spike in cases Vermont experienced as a result of the Omicron variant, which accounted for nearly 40% of total Covid-19 infections in New England in late December. The improvement in the positive case numbers, in combination with the state’s high vaccination rate, is starting to bring about changes in the state’s Covid-19 regulations and restrictions.
Governor Phil Scott announced in his weekly press conference last week that in light of the decreasing case numbers, he will not be extending the masking requirement for Vermont schools after the current deadline of Feb. 28. He is urging schools with at least 80 percent vaccination rates to end their mask mandates after the end of this month.In an Addison Independent article, Addison County School District Covid Coordinator Kelly Landwehr said that five of the district’s nine schools have already surpassed the 80 percent vaccination mark required to end mask wearing, despite that statewide data which shows that less than 80 percent of Vermonters between the ages of 12 and 17 have been vaccinated.
Vermont Education Secretary Dan French noted that while the Governor recommends schools end their mask mandates, schools may still make their own choices on whether or not to keep masking requirements regardless of their vaccination percentages. However, it seems that Governor Scott’s recommendation is already taking effect. Following the press conference, several school districts including the Addison Central and Mount Abraham Unified School Districts sent out memos pledging to make masking optional by mid-March, pending confirmation from the Department of Health that all of their schools had reached the 80 percent vaccination target.
Schools planning on removing the mask mandate have noted that this move may be concerning for some parents and students. At the same time, the feeling of cautious optimism comes through loud and clear.
Mount Abraham Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Reen stressed in his memo on Feb. 16 that the news is an indication of an improvement in Covid-19. “Beginning our transition away from some of our mitigation efforts, such as masking, is a step towards normalcy and learning to live with Covid-19,” Reen wrote.
These changes to Covid-19 recommendations and guidelines reflect the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic in Vermont. With no new Covid-19 variants currently classified as variants of concern, the hope is that the ease in restrictions will be allowed to continue and that a post-pandemic life without masking, testing and illness is closer than ever.