MONTPELIER — As the school year nears its end, state officials are urging Vermont youth to get out and take part in summer and community programs.
“We should keep in mind that children and youth are resilient,” said Sarah Squirrell, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, commenting on the pandemic’s impact on youths. “They have great capacity to adapt and change and bounce back and thrive if we provide the right supports and protective factors around them.”
The messaging comes as COVID-19 case data puts the state in the best position its been in the last six months, according to state officials. But Vermont isn’t taking its foot off the gas, and is urging residents, summer camps and employers to take advantage of community clinics and new initiatives to maintain the state’s high vaccination rate.
Here are three key takeaways from Tuesday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s response to the pandemic:
1. Summer programs available
Earlier this year, Gov. Phil Scott announced $1.5 million in grant funds available for summer and community programs this year. With the award period starting June 14, officials urged parents to visit the Vermont Afterschool website to see programs near them.
Squirrell said there has been an uptick in emergency department visits across the state by youth seeking mental health services. She said remote learning and the lack of interpersonal interaction has had a serious impact on Vermont’s youth, and urged parents to sign children up for summer programs as the pandemic continues to diminish in the state.
“Children and youth do best when they feel they are a part of something. … Access to summer and community programs is key,” Squirrell said.
Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said eligible summer programs can sign up on the health department website for a surveillance testing program that was launched Tuesday.
2. Vermont nearing 80% vaccinated goal
As of Tuesday, 76.9% of the eligible population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, pushing the state closer to the 80% mark needed to lift restrictions ahead of the July 4 reopening deadline. While initial reports Monday showed the state at 78.9%, some of the data was duplicated and created an inaccurate final tally, according to Smith.
In order to reach 80%, 17,250 more Vermonters would need to receive a dose, Smith said.
In addition to beginning distribution of the vaccines to primary care physicians, the state is also working with 27 companies on worksite clinics. Smith said businesses can submit a request for consideration for a worksite clinic on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development website.
Primary care physicians will only carry the Moderna vaccine for now, although the state plans to also supply providers with the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines when supplies are available.
3. Continued case decrease predicted
The latest state COVID-19 modeling data carries “a lot of good news,” according to Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.
“Across the board, Vermont’s numbers are better now than at any point in the last six months,” he said.
The state reported 219 new cases in the last week, which is 138 fewer than the week before and represents a 39% decrease. That also is an 85% decrease since April 1, Pieciak said.
Pieciak reported a uniform decrease in cases across all age groups, and for the second week in a row no active outbreaks were reported in longterm care facilities. Pieciak said the latest forecast calls for cases to fall, with daily new cases to remain in the single digits on a regular basis going forward.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reported the state has not seen a death since May 16, and the positivity rate rests at 1.2%.
Pieciak said it is estimated 235 Vermont lives have been saved due to vaccinations.