On March 22, 2022, the IDPH and ISBE issued additional, updated and revised COVID-19 guidance for schools. IDPH and ISBE together released a joint guidance document and also updated answers to many of its Frequently Asked Questions document and updated its Decision Tree. In addition, IDPH released “Interim Guidance on Testing for COVID-19 in Community Settings and Schools,” an updated guidance document.
Executive Order 2022-06, issued on February 28, 2022, rescinded previous orders mandating universal masking. In addition, Executive Order 2022-07, issued on March 4, 2022, lifted school exclusion requirements, which shifted schools back to the ordinary processes for handling infectious diseases. In light of the lifting of these state mandates, IDPH and ISBE have issued new guidance documents addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The joint guidance fully adopts the CDC’s updated guidance, which recommends but does not mandate that individual communities monitor hospitalizations, hospital capacity, and case numbers and adopt preventative measures, such as masks, when such metrics indicate that there is a potential to overwhelm the healthcare system. The guidance recommends that anyone who has COVID-19 like symptoms, a positive COVID-19 test, or known exposure to someone with COVID-19 wear a mask around others. In addition, the guidance indicates that school nurse offices are healthcare settings where masks are federally mandated. Other layered prevention strategies which the guidance recommends when COVID-19 community levels are “medium” or “high” include physical distancing, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and refusal to admit, and cleaning and disinfection.
The updated decision tree maintains the recommendation that upon testing positive for COVID-19 or upon displaying COVID-19 like symptoms after exposure to a confirmed case, individuals should isolate for at least 5 calendar days. This means remaining at home and, as much as possible, eliminating any contact whatsoever with others. Individuals who have been isolating may return to public interaction (including school) after the five calendar days if they have had no fever for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medicine) had no diarrhea or vomiting in the past 24 hours, have had improving symptoms, and mask for days 5-10. If unable to mask, the individual should isolate for the full 10 days. Minor changes to the decision tree includes guidance that symptomatic individuals with negative diagnostic tests obtain either NAAT PCR *or* serial antigen (series of 2 tests 24 hours apart) if the individual is a close contact to a confirmed case, if the school is experiencing an outbreak, or if the local health department recommends the same due to Community Levels, and isolate until symptoms are improving. The FAQ’s clarify that household members of an individual with symptoms and pending test results should mask both indoors and outdoors, and once a household member receives a positive test result, any other household members who are not up to date with vaccinations should be sent home from school immediately and isolate at home. A person only needs one symptom to be considered a suspected COVID-19 case, but schools should evaluate each symptomatic individual to determine whether the symptom is part of an existing or ongoing condition. Any individual who has had a prior confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 90 days does not need to isolate if exposed. Close contacts no longer include fully vaccinated adults or students aged 5-17 who have completed the primary vaccination series. However, antibody testing should not be relied upon as a way to be exempted from being a close contact.
While the guidance does not specifically address lunch procedures, the CDC recommends maximizing physical distance “as much as possible” when moving through a food service line and while eating, especially indoors. The CDC recommends that additional spaces outside of the cafeteria be used for mealtime seating to help facilitate distancing, but that students should not be excluded from in-person learning in an attempt to keep a minimum distance requirement. In addition, the Illinois guidance indicates that schools should plan adequate distancing for any students in days 5-10 of a quarantine where they are masking and have to remove their masks to eat, and that they be masked at all times not actively involved in eating.
The guidance reaffirms that school personnel are still subject to vaccination-or-test requirements, which were first set forth in Executive Order 2021-20 and modified in Executive Order 2021-22, a requirement that has never been repealed. There is ongoing litigation regarding this mandate which may result in changes to the mandate at any time, but it currently remains a legal requirement. The guidance indicates that each school district is responsible for ensuring compliance, regardless of the employer of the school personnel (i.e. a contractor or service provider, etc.).
While this guidance is almost entirely not mandated (except for personnel vaccination/test requirements), failure to follow guidance issued by a government body may give rise to liability for deviating from the recommended standard, and potentially create insurance coverage issues. The guidelines should therefore be carefully reviewed and considered.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact your KTJ school attorney.
Full guidance documents available here: