Child care expanded as schools reopen; more Covid testing offered

The state has expanded child care hubs as schools set to reopen. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont now has 6,450 child care slots available through state-created child care programs. The system will serve working parents whose kids are in hybrid learning programs that have them at school part time during the week.

The system, a program that uses $12 million in funding from Vermont’s share of the federal Covid-19 CARES Act, is temporary and can be dismantled after kids return to in-person instruction five days a week, said Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services. The child care hub system was created as an addition to the existing child care system.

Speaking at Gov. Phil Scott’s regular Covid-19 press conference Tuesday, Smith said he ultimately expects the state to create 9,000 temporary child care spots. The biggest obstacle he anticipates is finding people to work in the child care centers. He put a call out to the estimated 40,000 people who have been left jobless by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We need you,” said Smith, asking job candidates to contact the Department for Children and Families for more information. “This is a herculean task to get this up and running.”   

Sept. 8 was the first day of school, in classrooms or at home, for thousands of Vermont children.

Scott, who has pressed in the past for more in-person instruction, said that health experts think the time spent away from school has been emotionally damaging for children.

“Reopening our schools allows us to reestablish the routines for relationships and activities of school life that are essential to the well-being and healthy development of our students,” he said. He added that for the first few weeks, the priority must be social and emotional needs, with an increased emphasis on academics in a few weeks.

The state will be able to lift some of the restrictions on in-person instruction this fall if Vermont’s Covid-19 infection rate remains low, he said.

New testing opportunities

The state has tested more than 146,000 people since the pandemic began, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at the press conference. That is about a quarter of Vermont’s population.

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Most of those tests have been carried out at sites operated by the Health Department and the Vermont National Guard, or through hospitals and health care providers. Walgreens also operates a drive-through testing site in Essex Junction.

Levine announced Tuesday that Kinney Drugs plans to begin offering Covid-19 tests at 11 sites around the state, starting the week of Sept. 8. The tests are free but patients may be asked for insurance information for the Kinney Drug tests.

The state has also improved its digital registration and results reporting system, Levine said, so that people can receive their test results through an email, not just a telephone call.

That said, Levine also asked the public not to overuse the testing system.

“We know many Vermonters want to do the right thing to protect their friends and family and for some people, the urge is to get tested,” said Levine. “But while anyone can get tested, not everyone needs to get tested. The best way to protect yourself from Covid-19 and keep our schools and economy open is to follow all of the key prevention practices” such as wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from others, he said.

Vermont has seen 1,654 cases of Covid-19 and has had 58 deaths, the last one on July 28. Only one new case has been reported in connection with a recent outbreak in Killington, for a total of 18 cases. State officials are now waiting to see if there are any new cases connected to the Labor Day holiday, recent Burlington police protests, and school reopenings.

“I must say in the times I was out, I was very impressed with what I observed in the behavior of fellow Vermonters,” said Levine of mask use at the Burlington protests.

Retroactive unemployment supplement

The state has received $35.8 million from the federal government to pay a $300 supplement per week to unemployment insurance claimants. The money is intended to go part of the way in replacing the $600 federal unemployment insurance supplement that ended in late July. Lawmakers were considering an additional $100 to bring the supplement up to $400.

Mike Harrington, commissioner of the state Department of Labor, said Tuesday that checks could start going out as early as next week. But they will only cover the first three weeks of August.

The U.S. Senate returned to session Sept. 8, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., planned to address his colleagues on the topic of the supplement, said spokesman David Carle.

“Until Congress takes action, there won’t be an additional amount of money,” Scott said of additional federal Covid-19 emergency funding.

Public safety reform

On Friday, the governor’s office released an executive order on public safety reform that includes making data on complaints about police more publicly available, addressing racism, and taking another look at the presence of police officers in schools. Local and state officials are also talking about ending qualified immunity for law enforcement officers – a doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for violating the constitution.

Scott declined to give details about his policy preferences, such as police in schools, saying he’d prefer to leave it up to the districts.

“But we need to have the conversation,” he said. “Ending racism in our country is literally in our hands; the government can’t do this. But we can individually. It’s about how we treat each other, and it’s about a mindset.”

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Correction: There is no charge for Covid-19 tests at Kinney Drugs. The state will cover the cost for those not insured.

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Anne Wallace Allen

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