WCAX Covers: After-school programs concerned with COVID testing equity

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 8:27 AM EST|Updated: 3 hours ago
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – The directors of some after-school programs in Burlington say they feel left behind in the new plan to manage COVID-19 in Vermont.

They say between language barriers, fast changes in guidance, and inequitable testing options, they are feeling left having to fend for themselves and try to keep the communities they serve safe. “What we have seen is just confusion, our families are scared,” said Shabnam Nolan, the director of the King Street Center. “That information has been hard to understand coming down from the state.”

Nolan says their child care and after-school programming feels left out of the state guidance. That message was echoed by the Sara Holbrook Community Center and Boys and Girls Club of Burlington.

These centers are serving many young BIPOC Vermonters in Burlington who are lagging behind in vaccination rates. Statewide, only 44% of 5 to 11-year-old BIPOC Vermonters are completely vaccinated, compared to the next age bracket 12 to 30, where 70% are fully vaccinated.

Nolan says all three community centers have been left to do extended contact tracing, translate guidance for families where English isn’t their first language, and attempt to secure tests. “Our families can’t just be handed a test at school and said, ‘Test and let us know,’” said Nolan.

They say they are left doing more with less understanding of what is expected of them. “We are left in a situation where we have to make decisions that feel like medical decisions without the guidance,” said Sara Holbrook executive director Christine Lloyd-Newberry.

She says she thinks the state’s health experts are doing their best, but there are holes. She says they want to be a hub for test distribution and good information and be a bridge to an underserved community but they say they need help with clearer translated guidance, better communication, and tests.

“For them to look to us and say, ‘We know you are the core place that these families come. How can we access those families, get information to them, make sure they have access to vaccination, make sure they have access to tests,’” said Nolan.

The Vermont Health Department responded in the following statement:

“The Health Department continues to listen to and work with our community partners, and have staff dedicated to these efforts. We are in the process of organizing a distribution program to get test kits and other materials to community partners at regular intervals. Due to ongoing testing supply limitations and the current need to ensure schools and child care facilities have access to test kits, we do not yet know when kits will be made available directly to partners. But that is a matter of when, not if. The state is committed to ensuring access to testing and other materials for all Vermonters and, as supply limitations ease, will keep this at the forefront of our testing planning efforts. In addition, the department continues to work with the Vermont Language Justice Project, formerly known as the Multilingual Task Force on getting out tutorials on how to use tests as we learn they become available.”

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