Vermont is easing restrictions on schools effective Saturday, which includes permitting inter-scholastic competitions starting this weekend.
"We wanted to give our student athletes an extra weekend for what has already been a shortened season," Vermont Education Secretary Dan French said Tuesday. "This is particularly important for our students participating in activities that have short seasons to begin with."
Through a phased-in approach, Vermont reopened schools under step two with the intention of getting schools accustomed to implementing more strict requirements. The anticipation has been to move to step three toward the end of September.
Step three allows schools to utilize common areas such as gyms and cafeterias with small groups of students on staggered schedules. Regular cleaning and disinfection between uses is required.
Schools will also have greater flexibility in grouping students by academic subjects during the day under step three. Step two required schools to keep the same groups of students together whenever feasible, which is commonly called the pod model.
Coronavirus mitigation strategies such as staying home when sick, completing the daily health checks, wearing masks and social distancing are still required.
Officials said they consider two variables when determining the step levels for schools - the overall health conditions for the virus in Vermont and compliance with health guidance.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases among students in three Vermont schools have been reported since the start of the year. About 70% of districts have adopted hybrid learning models with remote classes three or more days per week.
Fewer than six cases cropped up in two schools in Vermont, officials said last week, at Crossett Brook Middle School and Hartford High School, a regional school with an integrated technical center. The most recent cases were reported over the weekend out of Williamstown Middle and High School.
Among the current cases associated with the three schools, none of the people who tested positive got the virus due to being in school, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine. Investigations conducted by the state found that people were exposed prior to coming to class.
"The good news is that as of today - two weeks in - we have seen no COVID-19 transmission within K to 12 schools," Levine said. "One important reason for our success thus far is that our school administrators, teachers and staff have been literally moving mountains to create safe and healthy learning environments for our children."
Gov. Phil Scott clarified his Friday announcement, which allows food and drink service to take place at bar and counter seating in restaurants.
"This change was simply to allow seating at the bar counter, and they still will have to comply with a 50% capacity and all other safety measures,within the guidance as well," Scott said Tuesday.
The change did not increase capacity at bars and restaurants, where capacity has been limited to 50% since June 26. He also reminded people that lodging facilities are able to rent all of their rooms as long as social distancing and other requirements are followed.
"Some feel we're moving way too fast and others believe we're moving way too slow - I get it. We've all been living with so much uncertainty since March. Everything about our lives have been turned upside down," Scott said Tuesday. "I understand all that but please know, we keep these concerns in mind every day and with every decision."
Statistics show that Vermont continues to have the lowest rate of positive tests for the virus that causes COVID-19 in the country.
On Tuesday, the Vermont Health Department reported 15 new cases of coronavirus over the past four days, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 1,720.
The number of deaths remains at 58.