Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont's top health and education officials said Tuesday the level of the virus that causes COVID-19 in the state is low enough that schools can resume in-person instruction this fall.
During a Tuesday news conference, Scott said he planned to issue an order allowing schools to open Sept. 8, a week later than usual, to give local school districts more time to prepare.
Many Vermont school districts are already planning to reopen this fall, with hybrid, in-person and remote instruction. A few are planning to resume full-time instruction, the governor said.
In-school instruction is especially important for the youngest children who are less likely to contract or spread COVID-19 or suffer extreme outcomes if they do contract it, Scott and the other officials said.
"We have to recognize and plan for the reality that our data could change before the start of school," Scott said. "And the other reality is we will continue to see cases of COVID-19 in Vermont and we will also see some in our schools."
He says each of the hundreds of schools across the state are different and there is no one-size-fits-all plan or timeline for resuming full-time, in-person instruction.
"The more we prove ourselves, the more confidence we have in the system, and if things go well, I would think that they would evolve into in person, five-day ... instruction."
In a statement, the president of the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association, the teachers' union, said the delay on school opening until Sept. 8 was a good first step.
"The governor has paved the way for an orderly, phased-in approach to reopening our schools," said Don Tinney, a high school English teacher who serves as president of the 13,000-member union.
On Tuesday the Vermont Health Department reported three new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, two in Chittenden County and one in Caledonia County. The statewide total since the pandemic began is now just over 1,400.
The number of deaths from the disease remains at 56. The state has not had a COVID-19 fatality in over a month.
"Vermont essentially looks more like Europe than the rest of the United States," Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said during the press briefing with the governor.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.