SPRINGFIELD – The wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines has changed the state’s approach to mitigating the spread of the virus statewide and in schools.
For school districts, this means advice suggested rather than required, with an emphasis on local control to impose mitigation measures.
For the governor’s office, that means there are “no plans” to reinstate some of the mitigation measures and economic shutdowns that were common at the start of the pandemic.
“Restoring the Illinois mitigation measures that were adopted at the height of the pandemic have allowed for safe and proven infection prevention measures because no vaccine was available,” an office spokesperson said on Friday. from the governor in an email.
“Currently, there are no plans to implement additional mitigation measures now that there is an abundance of vaccines available and accessible throughout Illinois. We encourage all Illinois residents aged 12 and over to get immunized as soon as possible. “
Previously, if an area had a positivity rate of 8% or greater for three days, the governor’s office and the Illinois Department of Public Health had a menu of mitigations they could put in place, such as the closure of indoor restaurants and capacity restrictions in businesses.
But, due to vaccine availability, those options are not currently on the table, even as positivity rates increase in some areas and a more contagious variant of the virus spreads.
State guidelines currently “recommend” face coverings in indoor public places for those who are not vaccinated, while masks are mandatory on public transport and in medical facilities.
Must-have masks on buses The “recommended” masking guidelines will be the same for schools after the state fully adopted guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. Schools are also encouraged to maintain a distance of three feet between each student.
“As per CDC guidelines, school districts in Illinois have local control over how they should work with local public health officials to determine prevention strategies needed in their area by monitoring levels of community transmission. and local immunization coverage, and using drug tests to detect cases in K-12 schools, ”a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education said Thursday in an e- mail.
In accordance with other CDC guidelines, masks will always be required for all school bus passengers, regardless of the school’s mask policies.
Otherwise, districts are encouraged to take a “layered” mitigation approach, accompanying masking and distancing with “screening tests, cohorting, improved ventilation, handwashing, and cough and blood coverage. sneezing, stay home with symptoms of infectious disease including COVID-19, regular cleaning, ”according to the CDC.
The guidelines also recommend that if school administrators remove any prevention strategy based on local conditions, they should do so “one at a time and closely monitor (with adequate testing in the school and / or community) for any increase in COVID-19 cases. “
Free testing programs are available to Illinois schools through the IDPH, while districts can also use federal elementary and secondary school emergency relief funding for screening tests, according to the ISBE. .
Operationally, the ISBE has the regulatory power to reduce the recognition status of any school district exhibiting “impairments that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff”, in accordance with the Law of the state, according to the spokesperson. But the Council of State does not invoke this authority.
“The ISBE is not currently taking any recognition action against school districts. We will continue to help school districts align with the new CDC guidelines, ”the spokesperson said.
Vaccines in the spotlight
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala has issued a statement demanding the resumption of in-person learning this school year, provided that distance education is available to students in quarantine.
“All of our students deserve a safe return in person to schools this fall,” said Ayala. “With ever increasing vaccination rates and unprecedented federal funding to support safe in-person learning, and mitigation measures such as contact tracing and increased ventilation in place at schools, we are fully confident in the safety of in-person learning this fall. “
Districts are also expected to promote immunization, which is “currently the main public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the guidelines.
Currently, only one of the three vaccines administered in the United States is approved for use in children – the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which has been approved for ages 12 and older.
According to the IDPH, about 55% of Illinoisans 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 71% have received at least one dose.
The rate of vaccination in Illinois has slowed, however, with the state averaging 21,217 doses per day over the previous seven days, up from a peak of over 130,000 on average in April. About half of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, but positivity rates were also on the rise
The average seven-day case positivity rate was 1.9% on Friday, tripling its rate of 0.6% seen as recently as June 26. The Metro East area near the St. Louis border, however, had an average seven-day test positivity rate of 7.6%. According to the latest data released Friday, the rate for Region 3 in west-central Illinois was 5.3% and that for Region 5 in southern Illinois was 6.1%. The other regions were at about 2 percent or less..
The IDPH maintains a website that tracks county-level measures by which schools can monitor the spread of the community based on test positivity rates, new cases per 100,000, increases in youth cases and other measures. It measures risk on a scale from minimal to moderate to substantial.
Measurements are updated weekly based on transmission rates from the previous week, and 13 counties had triggered a warning level as of July 10, up from seven the week before.