Schools in Vermont have been open for a month, with most schools offering a combination of remote and in-person learning. Thus far, it’s been a remarkable success. In most communities there have been no Covid-19 cases to report and schools are gradually adding more days to in-person instruction.

There was no credible means by which to predict what the schools’ experiences would be. The hope was that our schools would mirror the good health of our communities and that any outbreaks would be minimal and controllable. So far, that’s been the case.

We don’t know how the winter and our forced hibernation will affect our distinction as being the safest state in the nation when it comes to the pandemic. But we should be able to draw some hope from the experience being recorded at the University of Vermont and Champlain College.

UVM has gone through 65,000 tests, having only 24 students test positive. They go through 10,000 tests a week with an average of only one student testing positive per week. One out of 10,000?

Champlain College’s numbers are much fewer, but the ratio is roughly the same, which is far less than a single percent. It’s all about the testing.

It was this cohort that had most Vermonters worried. They are students leaving home and coming to Burlington to attend school. That these students would adhere to any level of forced discipline was considered laughable by the skeptics. They’re kids. They’re away from home. Play by the rules? What rules?

And, to be honest, we still don’t know, and we won’t until it’s over and life returns to something that resembles normalcy. There is an exhaustion that comes with the virus and the attendant requirements to be safe. The angst of a return to what we experienced last spring is palpable, but to refrain from socialization is a step difficult to sustain for any length of time.

For most of us, we can’t get through this fast enough. [Like the general election.]

The challenge is to remind ourselves of the importance of placing long term gain over short term gratification, and, of course, to remind ourselves that if you have your health, you have everything.

Still, it’s worth pondering why it is that Vermont has done so well; meanwhile there were 52,635 new cases nationwide on Wednesday, nine percent above the 14-day average, with almost a thousand new deaths. Cites around the nation are staring at the possibility of new lockdowns.

Is it that we’re just that anti-social to begin with so social distancing is second nature to us? Are we germaphobes? Do we wash our hands a lot?

There is also a new consideration to ponder, which is the feared specter of a flu season quickly approaching — on top of the pandemic. If we are doing so well with our social distancing, the masks and the washing of hands, and if we’re smart enough to take our flu shots, shouldn’t Vermont also have an enviable record for others to follow when it comes to the reduced number of flu cases this year?

The flu in Vermont results in an average of 57 deaths annually. The death rate from Covid-19 thus far as been 58. It seems apparent that the ability to match what we have achieved with the virus to what we could accomplish with the flu would be a natural. That would be a nice addition to the progress we’re seeing in our schools and our communities. It would add immeasurably to our reputation as the nation’s healthiest state. Maybe we could take the lead from our students? Or they could lead us?

by Emerson Lynn

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