Illinois Updates COVID-19 Prevention Guidance in K-12 Schools

Illinois Updates COVID-19 Prevention Guidance in K-12 Schools

On July 9, 2021, the state of Illinois adopted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance regarding COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools for all public and nonpublic schools in Illinois. The updated federal guidance is currently in effect.

Among the guidelines are that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated.

The CDC’s guidance is meant to help K-12 school administrators and local health officials select appropriate, layered prevention strategies in order to keep in-person learning environments safe for students and staff during times of fluctuating transmission. Answers to frequently asked questions build on the CDC’s guidance with recommendations about how to best implement the federal health authority’s recommendations.

In addition to the health and safety reasons for following the CDC’s guidance, school districts that decide not to follow the CDC’s guidance should consult with their insurers regarding risk assumption and liability coverage.

Insurers may be unwilling to cover liabilities created as a result of failure to adhere to public health guidance.

Is there a state mandate that students or staff must obtain the COVID-19 vaccine?

No. However, the CDC and IDPH strongly encourage all individuals eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to be vaccinated.

“Vaccination benefits not only the individual, but also schools and communities by reducing transmission,” the CDC says. “For example, fully vaccinated persons are not required to quarantine if exposed to a case as long as they remain asymptomatic and do no need to mask or maintain physical distance.”

Major changes to guidance for the 2021-22 school year include the following:

  • Promotion of vaccination as the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Alignment of masking recommendations for schools with CDC guidance for individuals who are fully vaccinated.
  • Additional emphasis on the importance of offering in-person learning, regardless of whether all of the prevention strategies can be implemented in a school.
  • Revised definition of close contacts to guide quarantine procedure.
  • Introduction of a Test-to-Stay alternative to quarantine.

Updated FAQs regarding the CDC’s guidance can be found at Dph.illinois.gov/covid19/schoolFAQs.

Key Takeaways

  • Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.
  • Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic.  Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
  • Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.
  • Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
  • Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
  • Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together consistently) to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, and other members of their households.
  • COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect people, including students, teachers, and staff, who are not fully vaccinated, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels.
  • Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing).

Summary of Recent Changes

  • Added information on offering and promoting COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Updated to emphasize the need for localities to monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies.
  • Revised to emphasize the COVID-19 prevention strategies most important for in-person learning for K-12 schools.
    • Added language on the importance of offering in-person learning, regardless of whether all of the prevention strategies can be implemented at the school.
    • For example, because of the importance of in-person learning, schools where not everyone is fully vaccinated should implement physical distancing to the extent possible within their structures (in addition to masking and other prevention strategies), but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.
  • Updated to align with guidance for fully vaccinated people.
  • Updated to align with current mask guidance.
    • In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors.
  • Added language on safety and health protections for workers in K-12 schools.