The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) fully adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Kindergarten (K)-12 Schools on July 9,2021. IDPH Press Release (http://www.dph.illinois.gov/news/illinois-department-public-health-adopts-cdc-covid-19-prevention-school-guidance)
The Will County Health Department (WCHD) strongly recommends school districts begin the 2021-2022 school year with layered COVID-19 prevention strategies as outlined in the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for K-12 schools. These prevention strategies include:
• Promoting vaccination,
• Consistent and correct mask use,
• Physical distancing,
• Screening testing to promptly identify cases, clusters, and outbreaks,
• Enhanced ventilation,
• Handwashing and respiratory etiquette,
• Staying home when sick and getting tested,
• Contact tracing, in combination with isolation, quarantine, and post-exposure viral testing, and
• Cleaning and disinfection.
WCHD strongly recommends implementing strategies to reduce the risk and likelihood of COVID-19 spread in school settings in order to maximize the benefits of in-person learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports in-person learning and recommends universal masking in school for everyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status.
WCHD strongly recommends school districts begin the school year requiring that masks be worn indoors at all times by all individuals (age 2 years and older including staff) who are NOT fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Students and driver must wear a mask all the time during the bus ride regardless of vaccination status. CDC continues to recommend masking and physical distancing in schools as key prevention strategies, particularly as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise. Prevention strategies in schools will continue to change as COVID-19 community transmission declines to lower levels for sustained periods and when individuals under the age of 12 years are eligible to be vaccinated.
Schools should work with the WCHD to understand vaccination coverage (in eligible age groups) and case rates and base mitigation decisions on local conditions. Any lessening of mitigation level should be implemented one at a time in consultation with the WCHD and monitored closely with adequate testing through the school and community testing to ensure students and staff are safe.
Currently the student population under the age of 12 years is not yet eligible for vaccination and will not be fully vaccinated when they return to in-person school this fall. The vaccination eligible group (12-17 years) has not yet reached the fully vaccinated status at the desired level leaving a significant portion of the school age population at risk. The use of masks in schools by individuals who are unvaccinated will reduce school-based and community transmission of COVID-19, reduce the need for quarantine of students who are close contacts in school, and therefore keep more students learning in-person.
COVID-19 Testing: Through IDPH funding, SHIELD IL is now available to all (Tiers 1, 2, 3, & 4) public K-12 schools with NO fees. WCHD strongly support schools to implement SHIELD IL testing available to all schools as it is one of the most important strategies to identify and contain cases (symptomatic and asymptomatic) and stop further spread within the school.
Timely Reporting of COVID-19 cases (confirmed and suspected) and Contact Tracing: Under the IL Communicable Disease code part 690.200 schools are required to report all confirmed and suspect COVID-19 cases in a timely manner utilizing the electronic link provided to schools. Case investigation and contact tracing will be performed by WCHD in partnership with the schools to promptly identify, isolate and quarantine cases and close contacts. WCHD has authority to implement isolation and quarantine under the IL administrative code.
Modified Quarantine Guideline: Classroom students who are within 3 to 6 feet of infected students are not treated as a close contact if the case and contacts identified were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting mask and other K-12 school prevention strategies were in place. As a result, requirements for students to wear masks in school if they are not fully vaccinated will decrease the number of students who must stay home and quarantine as a result of their close contact to a COVID-19 case. This will result in more students being able to continue in person learning. If they were not consistently masked then close contacts are classroom students who are within 6 feet of the infected student for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more within the 24 hour period. A casual exposure (e.g., hallways, locker-room, restrooms) for cumulative less than 15 minutes are not considered a close contact.
Schools should be supportive of people who are fully vaccinated, but choose to continue to wear a mask, as a personal choice or because they have a medical condition that may weaken their immune system. If schools are not reliably or consistently able to assess and track COVID-19 vaccination status, then schools may consider expanding the masking requirement to all students and staff (irrespective of COVID-19 vaccination status), toward promoting a safe environment for in-person learning.
WCHD strongly supports in person learning with layered mitigation strategies including consistent and correct use of mask, screening and testing.
*WCHD COVID-19 prevention strategies are subject to change based on updated CDC and IDPH guidance*.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html#mask-use
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Science Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/masking-science-sars-cov2.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs – Update https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/transmission_k_12_schools.html
American Academy of Pediatrics Updates Recommendations for Opening Schools in Fall 2021 (aap.org)