The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) issued Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools yesterday, March 10. In announcing the new guidance, Dr. Carmen I. Ayala, Superintendent of ISBE, said, “This joint guidance from ISBE and IDPH makes important updates to the essential, layered mitigation strategies that facilitate the safe return to in-person instruction.”

Dr. Ayala said, “It reflects what we have learned about the transmission of COVID-19 in school settings, as more students in Illinois and across the country have returned safely to in-person learning during the 2020-21 school year. This joint guidance supports the return to in-person instruction as soon as practicable in each community.”

Dr. Ayala says, “Regardless of the level of community transmission, all schools must use and layer the following five essential mitigation strategies that are key to safely delivering in-person instruction and mitigating COVID-19 transmission in schools:

“1. Require universal and correct use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks;

“2. Require social distancing be observed, as much as possible;

“3. Require contact tracing in combination with isolation of those with suspected or confirmedCOVID-19 and quarantine of close contacts, in collaboration with the local health department;

“4. Require an increase in schoolwide cleaning and disinfection and maintenance of healthy environments; and

“5. Require promotion and adherence to handwashing and respiratory etiquette. In-person instruction should be prioritized over extracurricular activities, including sports and school events, to minimize risk of transmission in schools and protect in-person learning.

One significant change relates to social distancing. Dr. Ayala says, “IDPH is revising the recommendation for social distancing for in-person learning. Social distance for in-person learning is now defined as 3 to 6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff. Maintaining 6 feet remains the safest distance, but schools can operate at no less than 3 feet in order to provide in-person learning. Unvaccinated staff should maintain 6 feet social distance as much as possible because adults remain more susceptible to infection than children. Strict adherence to social distancing must be maintained when face masks are removed in limited situations and monitored by school staff.

“Further, IDPH and the CDC no longer recommend symptom screenings on the school grounds, but schools may continue this practice if preferred. Schools and districts should require self-certification and verification for all staff, students, and visitors prior to entering school buildings.

“Consistent with the updated guidance from the CDC, families of students who are at increased risk of severe illness (including those with special health care needs) or who live with people at increased risk must be given the option of remote instruction.”

The new guidance is available here.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...

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