MANCHESTER – In a letter e-mailed to families Sunday evening, Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Superintendent Randi Lowe warned the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has already impacted food service staff in the Taconic & Green Regional School District and could force school closures.
“As we enter the second week of January, if COVID numbers continue at the rate they currently are, there is a likelihood we will need to close at some point,” Lowe said. “We will see how [Monday] goes at [Manchester Elementary Middle School] and Flood Brook with Test to Stay, but we may be at capacity and have to adjust our practices over the course of the week. I want to be honest and upfront with you about this as we are doing the best we can right now under complex conditions.”
Already, Lowe said, the COVID impact on food service workers is forcing the Taconic & Green district to revert to “modified cold meals” at four buildings this week: The Dorset School, MEMS, Flood Brook Union School in Londonderry, and Sunderland Elementary School.
“I wish we were not in this position, but given the choice of closing our schools or having modified meals, I chose to keep our schools open,” Lowe said.
As of Monday afternoon, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union in Bennington reported no operational changes as a result of COVID cases, public information officer Katie West said.
The development comes as the state Agency of Education has informed superintendents of a significant policy change in COVID testing.
As first reported by Seven Days, the state will recommend schools end the practice of contact tracing and PCR surveillance testing for students and staff, instead relying upon families and at-home testing. When a student tests positive for COVID, schools will inform families of all students in that class, the Burlington-based weekly reported.
According to the report, the rapid spread of the omicron variant made the previous contact tracing and surveillance testing strategy obsolete.
The Vermont NEA, the state’s largest teachers’ union, called the sudden shift in strategy “demoralizing.”
“Contact tracing and surveillance testing were meant to give local administrators the information they needed to make sound decisions on how safe their schools were,” the union said on its website. “The abrupt end to these measures – with a promise of something ‘better’ – has us feeling like Vermont’s officials are putting educators, administrators, and parents at greater and greater risk.”
Former candidate for statewide office Brenda Siegel of Newfane called for the new guidance to be reversed.
"At a time when educators, parents, school administrators and children need more protection, support and guidance from those who have the power to offer it, [Gov. Phil Scott] and his administration have chosen to instead minimize mitigation efforts," Siegel said. "These strategies must be enhanced, not eliminated. Our failure to implement a comprehensive strategy to mitigate transmission increases risks for students and staff in schools, exacerbates geographic and health inequities, and burdens schools and childcare staff."
Meanwhile, the virus continued to spread at unprecedented speed in Vermont. The Department of Health reported that 2,642 people tested positive for the virus on Saturday, breaking the previous single-day record of 2,188 set last week. Ninety-two people were hospitalized, 17 of them in intensive care units. The seven-day average of of positive tests hit 13.8 percent, up from 12.4 percent last week – meaning 1 in 7 people who tested for COVID were positive for the virus.
The death total in Vermont is 483.
The case count in Bennington County remains the highest in the state. On Saturday, 309 people in Bennington County tested positive for COVID, and the county reported a state-highest 2,865 cases per 100,000 in the past 14 days.
There were no updated figures for Monday.