MONTPELIER — When students return to school at the end of the month so will masks, although that may change depending on vaccination rates in a given school.
Secretary of Education Dan French said for the first few weeks of school, the Vermont Agency of Education will encourage all students and staff to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. COVID-19 vaccines currently are only available to those 12 and older.
"We're recommending all students under the age of 12, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, wear a mask in schools," Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "This is consistent with the health department's current advice encouraging unvaccinated people to wear a mask indoors."
Once 80 percent of eligible students in a school have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, French said the department will recommended only the unvaccinated students and staff should wear masks.
"We hope this inspires parents to do the right thing and sign their kids up to be vaccinated," Scott said, adding that the state will set up more vaccination clinics specifically designed to help with the effort.
Scott called it "critical" to return to full in-person instruction.
Students and staff will be urged to stay home when they're sick. French said schools won't have distancing requirements but masks will be mandated on buses and voluntary testing for contact tracing will continue.
"Vermont is one of the states that maintained very robust contact tracing in schools throughout the pandemic and we are gearing up to do that in the fall," he said.
When 80 percent of eligible Vermonters received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in mid-June, Scott lifted remaining capacity restrictions. On Tuesday, he said data on deaths and hospitalizations show that vaccination is working to limit the impact of infection.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said COVID-19 cases are expected to rise nationally for another four to five weeks before improving and that will affect highly vaccinated regions such as Vermont. Hospitalizations and fatalities related to the virus are anticipated to remain low.