Vermont is much closer than many other states in getting kids fully back to in-person learning amid the pandemic but even with improvements to remote learning and some in-person instruction it's not sufficient and many students are struggling, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday during his twice-weekly coronavirus briefing.

It's not a reflection on the hard work of teachers, the Republican governor said.

A study done in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Health and the University of Vermont found that youths aged 12 to 17 reported increases in depressive symptoms and anxiety in the fall of 2020, compared to the fall of 2019, according to Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrel. Reports of anxiety in young adults aged 18 to 25 also increased significantly, she said Friday during the briefing, and about 70% of youth reported that the pandemic made their anxiety/worry, mood or loneliness “a little” or “a lot” worse.

The rate of youth emergency department visits for mental health rose last year and pediatricians across the state are reporting increased demand and mental health needs, she said.

“Access to school is one of the most powerful protective factors that we can provide to our children and youth. And every effort should be able to get our Vermont children and youth back to school," she said. "The cost of not getting them back are truly devastating, especially for the most vulnerable.”

Some have called for teachers to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine but the state has focused on vaccinating the most vulnerable — those 65 and older and those with certain underlying conditions. School staff and child care workers are being surveyed to determine their interest in getting vaccinated, said Education Secretary Dan French. As long as vaccine supplies continue to increase “our strategy will evolve,” he said.

Scott set a goal in his inaugural address in January of getting all kids back to full in-person learning by the end of the school year and hopefully by the end of April.

“This goal is not about what I want. It’s because the science and the data tells us our kids aren’t doing well,” he said Friday, adding that the science and data also show that students can get back to school, with the effects of COVID-19 being managed.

THE NUMBERS

Vermont reported 121 new coronavirus cases on Friday, for a statewide total since the pandemic began of more than 14,960 cases.

One more deaths was reported, bringing the statewide total to 204.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 106.57 new cases per day on Feb. 11 to 98.71 new cases per day on Feb. 25.