This past summer, the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health issued an updated joint guidance “IDPH & ISBE Joint Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Schools”.
Notably, the Guidance continues 3 key requirements:
- ISBE indicates that schools must continue to provide remote learning to any student who is under isolation or quarantine for COVID-19 based on the State Superintendent’s Remote Learning Declaration.
- The Governor issued Executive Order 2022-17 on July 22, 2022 extends Section 3 of Executive Order 2021-22 and provides that school personnel must establish they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to at least weekly testing for COVID-19. The Order currently extends to August 20, 2022.
- Masks continue to be federally required in healthcare settings and for healthcare personnel, including school nurse offices.
IDPH and ISBE also strongly encourage schools to follow the CDC’s operational guidance on best practices and the recommendations of their local health department on quarantine and isolation for confirmed and probable cases and close contacts. The Guidance encourages other practices based on CDC updated guidelines, including keeping students home if ill, use testing to confirm or rule out COVID-19 infection, and using Test to Stay with masking and diagnostic testing to keep asymptomatic close contacts and those linked to an outbreak in school. IDPH and ISBE adopt the following updated CDC Guidelines:
CDC Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning (Updated May 27, 2022)
CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention: School and Childcare Programs (Updated August 11, 2022)
A more detailed summary of the ISBE/IDPH recommendations is set forth below.
IDPH & ISBE Joint Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Schools (June 23 2022), adopting the CDC Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools, Early Care, Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning, May 27, 2022) (“Guidance”)
The Guidance has developed a continuum of possible community levels of infection and spread, with corresponding testing and masking precautions correlated to each level of severity. The community level are designed to help schools and local health departments determine appropriate, measured responses to infection levels. For example, when a comment level is “high”, the CDC recommends universal indoor masking be implemented as masks are critical to keeping classrooms open for in-person learning. At any community level, staff and students with COVID-19-like symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask around others. The Guidance further recommends that schools consider screening testing for high-risk activities such as indoor sports and extracurricular activities, when students are returning from breaks, and for those serving students who are at high risk for getting very sick with COVID-19.
The Guidance includes “strategies for everyday operations” or actions for schools on a daily basis to prevent the spread of infectious disease, including the virus that causes COVID-19. The Guidance recommends the following practices regardless of community infection level or spread:
- Promote staying up to date with all routine vaccinations
- Implement policies that encourage students and staff to stay home when sick
- Optimize ventilation systems
- Reinforce proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
- Utilize proper cleaning and disinfection procedures
To promote and protect in-person attendance, the Guidance outlines the following key strategies for the prevention of COVID – 19, for the protection of students, staff and the community in general, in particular those who are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccination, and in areas where the community levels are elevated at medium or high. The Guidance notes that schools should work with their local health departments and rely upon local data when selecting strategies to prioritize for implementation. These determinations should balance the risk of COVID-19 with educational, social, and mental health outcomes when deciding which prevention strategies to put in place.
- Diagnostic and screening testing to promptly identify cases, clusters, and outbreaks
- Test to Stay Programs
- Ventilation Improvements
- Case Investigation and Contact Tracing or other methods to inform people who might have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the school environment of their potential exposure and the actions they should take to remain safe and reduce transmission.
- Persons identified as close contacts (persons not up to date with COVID-19 vaccination who were within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more in a 24 hour period) should quarantine for five days consistent with CDC guidance and mask for 5 additional days, or 10 days if unable to mask. For those up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, masks should be worn for 10 days after exposure.
The Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health also continue to maintain guidance documents reflecting Illinois-specific information and recommendations for the following: