MONTPELIER – A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, a surging demand for contact tracing and testing is posing a challenge to Vermont’s response.
Reports of lengthy delays at Vermont schools and testing sites had state officials announcing some changes at Tuesday’s briefing with Governor Phil Scott.
Schools are now advised not to automatically quarantine entire cafeterias, school buses or playgrounds because of a positive test. In addition, schools are now permitted to use local vaccination status information for contact tracing purposes, rather than collecting it from the Vermont Department of Health.
“We want to make it easier for both schools and contact tracers to implement the science behind contact tracing,” said Education Secretary Dan French. “Central to our changes is enabling schools to move more quickly to identify students who are vaccinated. A student who is vaccinated and is asymptomatic is not a close contact under CDC or Vermont guidelines.”
The updated guidance, along with the original guidance, can be found on the Vermont Agency of Education website.
This past spring, Vermont officials wanted state employees who had been working in contact tracing to be able to return to their usual jobs, so they partnered with a contractor that was supposed to increase its workforce if case counts picked up again.
“Recently, they failed to do that sufficiently, leaving the state to fill the gap,” said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. “We will continue to add state workers, our National Guard service members, and additional contracted employees as needed.”
Meanwhile, there have been delays with walk-in COVID-19 testing appointments, with some reportedly waiting up to five days for results. Secretary Smith said Vermonters should avoid walk-in appointments, which had been the norm for much of this year as demand trailed off.
“Now, we are transitioning back to appointments because just showing up in a higher-demand environment causes people to wait,” Secretary Smith said. “Where we find there are delays or not enough testing, we will add capacity.”
Scott said another group of state employees are also coming up on their deadline to get vaccinated.
“Effective tomorrow, all of our executive branch state employees will have to attest that they are vaccinated, or get tested weekly and wear a mask,” Governor Scott said.
COVID testing sites will be expanded in areas with high demand, and additional sites may be added as well.