Vermont Governor & Dr. Mark Levine Discuss Delta

Transcript: Governor Phil Scott And Dr. Mark Levine Discuss Delta, Vaccine Effectiveness And Pandemic Divisiveness At Weekly Covid-19 Briefing

Montpelier, VT (STL.News) At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, both addressed the growing divisiveness and heated rhetoric during the current Delta wave, reiterated the effectiveness of vaccines, and encouraged Vermonters to make informed choices and come together to continue moving the state forward.

The Administration also announced an update to the Agency of Education advisory memo for schools, which extends the length of the universal masking requirement in schools to October 4.  Schools have been an asked – and all but one has implemented – a policy to require masking for all those in schools through the first 10 instructional days and then consider lifting the requirement for the eligible population (12 and over) if 80% of eligible students have received both doses of the vaccine.  An updated advisory memo is available on the Agency of Education’s COVID resources page.

A full transcript of the Governor and Dr. Levine’s remarks are embedded below.  Click here to view the full press conference, including additional remarks from Secretary of Education Dan French, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, and the state’s weekly data and modeling presentation from Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak.

To find out where to get a free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine today, visit healthvermont.gov/myvaccine.

Transcript of Governor Scott’s remarks:

Good afternoon, I hope everyone had the chance to enjoy the long weekend.

As you know, last month I announced we were moving forward with a vaccine requirement for state employees in certain areas, like Corrections, the Veterans’ Home and the State Psychiatric Hospital, which went into effect on September 1.

At last week’s press conference, I said we were beginning discussions on expanding the policy to more state employees. We have now notified the State Employees Union that, effective September 15, all State of Vermont executive branch employees will be required to attest they are vaccinated or be subject to at least weekly testing and mandatory masking at work.

As I’ve said, we want as many people as possible to get the vaccine – because we know they work – and we feel it’s the best way to put this pandemic behind us.  I continue to urge other employers to follow suit.

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Next, as you know, in early August, my Administration issued an advisory memo urging schools to mandate masks at the beginning of the school year for all students, regardless of age and vaccination status.  Despite what you might have heard, we have achieved a near universal mandate with only one small school not following our guidance to institute a masking requirement.

Let me repeat that, because some seem to keep missing it:  By encouraging schools to implement the State’s recommendations, we’ve essentially achieved a universal masking requirement in schools, without a State of Emergency.

Now, we did offer an exception after this initial period with a goal of incentivizing vaccinations, which is that once 80% of a school’s eligible students have been vaccinated, we recommended schools lift the masking mandate for those over 12. It’s important to remember this is only for students over 12 where that group is 80% vaccinated.  Our guidance to schools has always been that all those who are ineligible for the vaccine continue to wear masks until they become eligible.

This transition was originally supposed to occur after the first 10 school days, but today we’re updating our advisory memo asking schools to maintain the universal masking requirement, regardless of vaccination status, until October 4. We hope by then the Delta wave that has impacted the entire country – though fortunately not anywhere near as severely in Vermont – will have begun to subside.

Secretary French, who foreshadowed this change to superintendents last week, will go into more details in a few moments.

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We also wanted to make you aware of a school vaccine incentive program we’ve been working on.  I’ve Directed the Agency of Education to reserve $2 million in grant dollars for schools who achieve high vaccination rates.  There will be benchmarks with corresponding awards as a school reaches higher percentages.  Funds will be awarded to schools when they reach those thresholds and submit grant requests with input from students.  Again, Secretary French will go into further detail, but we’re hoping to emphasize just how important it is to be vaccinated because it remains the single best tool we have to move from pandemic to endemic.

I’m sure some are wondering whether vaccines make a difference because you’ve been reading so much about the small percentage of breakthrough cases.  But before you arrive at that conclusion, it’s important to look at Vermont’s data.

As we’ve learned, the vaccines were designed – first and foremost – to limit severe illness.  While we hoped they would nearly eliminate cases, that’s not really how vaccines work.  The goal is to limit the number of people who are hospitalized or lose their life once vaccinated.  And they are doing just that.

As the entire globe has been hit by Delta, Vermont – with the nation’s most fully vaccinated population – also has the lowest hospitalization rate.  That’s not a coincidence.

In short, vaccines continue to save lives;  they allow us to do things we had to leave behind in 2020;  and they are our best path forward to put this pandemic behind us.

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What we also have to acknowledge is that COVID isn’t the only virus taking hold right now.

With the Delta wave, has come a wave of divisiveness and anger – a resurgence of polarization that had just started to subside earlier this summer.

If we are truly going to move forward, we have got to reflect on the language we use, the fear and anger these words might stoke, and the wounds we are deepening.

This is the time to rally and pull together because COVID-19 is not going away.  We must not let it tear us apart, especially as the risks are being significantly reduced through vaccines.

We have already gotten through the hardest part of the pandemic, and we did it together.  Let’s rise to that challenge again because we are beating this virus.