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MANCHESTER — As the state set all-time records for new COVID-19 cases this week and came close to equaling the mark for hospitalizations, area schools remain open, saying they’re taking things day by day.

With the omicron variant driving a sharp increase in COVID cases, the state smashed its previous record for new cases on Thursday, reporting 2,188 on the Health Department website. It reported 91 persons hospitalized with the coronavirus — one shy of the record of 92, set on Dec. 8 — with 17 of those patients in intensive care.

The seven-day average for positive tests, which stood at 5.1 percent on Dec. 21, had jumped to 12.4 percent on Thursday — a positive result for one out of every eight Vermonters tested.

“We are taking things one day at a time,” said Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Randi Lowe.

“Our families are doing a great job with keeping children home if they aren’t feeling well and communicating with us if they test positive. We do have staff and students who are positive but so far we have been able to keep our classrooms and schools open,” Lowe said. “We have had many people stepping out of their typical roles to help out but there is a solid commitment from everyone to do their part.”

Katie West, the public information coordinator for the Southern Vermont Supervisory Union, said the supervisory union’s schools have all remained open this week.

In Arlington, Fisher Elementary principal Deanne Lacoste and Arlington Memorial High School principal Sarah Pickering have sent emails home to families daily, informing them of cases in the schools and reminding families of the state’s new guidelines. They’ve reminded families that students should wear masks in school, wash their hands and stay home if they are sick.

Quarantine is required for students who have been in close contact with a COVID-positive person and are more than six months since receiving a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, more than two months from a Johnson & Johnson vaccine or less than two weeks since a booster, the principals said.

Students who test positive with a PCR or antigen test can leave home after five days if:

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• They never had symptoms;

• If their symptoms have improved, and they’ve been 24 hours fever-free without taking a fever-reducer, and they wear a mask through day 10.

“We knew that omicron was going to lead to a statewide spike in cases, and we are seeing a rise in cases here at BBA, as well,” Burr and Burton Academy headmaster Mark Tashjian said. “We continue to require masks while indoors, are conducting weekly surveillance testing, our faculty and staff are 98 percent vaccinated, our student body is 82 percent vaccinated and young people are at very low risk of severe outcomes.”

“We are doing our best to provide the academic, social and emotional support that young people need in this day and age, and so far, we are not experiencing significant staffing disruptions,” he added. “We take each day as it comes.”

At Long Trail School in Dorset, interim head of school Charles Scranton said, “like every school in Vermont, we are monitoring everything on a daily basis.”

“The Health Team meets frequently to do everything we can to keep our students, our faculty and staff safe,” Scranton said. “Yes, we have had cases and contact tracing has caused some students to quarantine at home. We hope to have a virtual town hall with our parents very shortly to keep them informed.”

The Vermont Health Department announced Thursday that beginning next week, the state will use a pilot program developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to deliver 500,000 recently acquired rapid COVID-19 tests to households across the state. The program will help state officials assess a delivery model where residents order tests online and have them delivered to their homes, the department said.

This is similar to a system President Joe Biden has said the federal government will use to make rapid tests more readily available later in the month, but Vermont’s program is in addition to that federal effort.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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