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CCHD Statement on COVID-19 Prevention Strategies in Schools

July 20, 2021

The Cass County Health Department (CCHD) strongly recommends school districts begin the 2021-2022 school year with layered COVID-19 prevention strategies in place that are outlined in the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for K-12 schools, which were fully adopted by the Illinois Department of Public Health. These prevention strategies include:

  • ·         Promoting vaccination,
  • ·         Consistent and correct mask use,
  • ·         Physical distancing,
  • ·         Screening testing to promptly identify cases, clusters, and outbreaks,
  • ·         Enhanced ventilation,
  • ·         Support for handwashing and respiratory etiquette,
  • ·         Staying home when sick and getting tested,
  • ·         Contact tracing, in combination with isolation, quarantine, and post-exposure viral testing, and
  • ·         Proper cleaning and disinfection.

While acknowledging that school leaders and local school districts hold the ultimate authority and discretion to develop plans to return to school, CCHD promotes strategies to reduce the risk and likelihood of COVID-19 spread in school settings in order to maximize the benefits in-person learning provides.

CCHD strongly recommends school districts begin the school year requiring that masks be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 years and older) who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. CDC continues to recommend masking and physical distancing in schools as key prevention strategies, particularly as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise. Prevention strategies in schools will continue to evolve as COVID-19 community transmission declines to lower levels for sustained periods and when individuals under the age of 12 years are eligible to be vaccinated.

At this time, individuals under the age of 12 years are not eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine and therefore, this group of our students will not be fully vaccinated when they return to in-person school this fall. The use of masks in schools by individuals who are unvaccinated will reduce school-based and community transmission of COVID-19, reduce the need for quarantine of students who are close contacts in school, and therefore keep more students learning in-person.

CDC recently updated the definition of close contacts in school settings to exclude situations when students are wearing masks in the classroom at the time of their exposure within 3 to 6 feet to a COVID- 19 case. As a result, requirements for students to wear masks in school if they are not fully vaccinated will decrease the number of students who must stay home and quarantine as a result of  their close contact to a COVID-19 case. This will result in more students staying in school – the goal we all share. 

Schools should be supportive of people who are fully vaccinated, but choose to continue to wear a mask, as a personal choice or because they have a medical condition that may weaken their immune system. If schools are not reliably or consistently able to assess and track COVID-19 vaccination status, then schools may consider expanding the masking requirement to all students and staff (irrespective of COVID-19 vaccination status), toward promoting a safe environment for in-person learning. 

As we all work together to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our students, staff, and community, we must continue to protect ourselves and one another from the serious effects of COVID-19 disease.

Our collective goal is to bring an end to this pandemic


The Benefits of School Mitigation Efforts

Throughout this pandemic,  the Public Health Community has continued to use science and data to formulate recommendations and identify best practices to protect the public from community-spread transmission and outbreaks in school and congregate settings.  Below are three common mitigation plans that some schools may adapt, with the case/contact requirements identified when cases occur in the school.  Please note that Close Contacts that have been fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine and may self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after exposure 

Masking and Testing                                                                                                                                                                   * This option is recommended as a best practice for Cass County schools by the CDC, IDPH, ISBE, and CCHD to protect our community from the spread of Covid-19

-Masking is required for unvaccinated individuals in the school setting

-Vaccinated individuals not required to wear masks, but may choose to do  so.

***-The state currently has a masking mandate at schools requiring that all present in the building wear a mask regardless of vaccination status

- School is opting into one of  Illinois’ two (free) routine testing programs (Shield or IDPH PCR Program)

Cases

-All cases must Isolate at home for minimum of 10 days after onset of symptoms; or 10 days after positive test if asymptomatic

 Close Contacts

-Contacts who are unvaccinated and have spent 15 minutes within 3 feet of the positive case throughout the day can test out of going home with a negative test done at school.  If no test is done to stay at school,  they will be quarantined and kept out of school for 14 days after last contact with the  case.


Masking, No Testing                                                                             *This option meets minimum CDC Recommendations

-Masking is required for unvaccinated individuals in the school setting

-Vaccinated individuals not required to wear masks, but may choose to do  so.

***-The state currently has a masking mandate at schools requiring that all present in the building wear a mask regardless of vaccination status

- Neither of Illinois’ two (free) routine testing programs are implemented  in the school setting

Cases

-All cases must Isolate at home for minimum of 10 days after onset of symptoms; or 10 days after positive test if asymptomatic

 Close Contacts

-Contacts who are unvaccinated and have spent 15 minutes within 3 feet of the positive case throughout the day must quarantine and be kept out of school for 14 days after last contact with the positive case

-Contacts are ineligible for shortened quarantine due to close contact in a school setting

No Masking, No Testing *                                                                                                                                      *This option is not recommended due to lack of mitigation and increased risk of in-person days missed in unvaccinated populations including those ineligible for vaccines due to age requirements

- Masking is not required for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals in the school setting

- All Individuals not required to wear a mask, but may choose to do so

***-The state currently has a masking mandate at schools requiring that all present in the building wear a mask regardless of vaccination status

- Neither of Illinois’ two (free) routine testing programs are implemented in the school setting

Cases

-All cases must Isolate at home for minimum of 10 days after onset of symptoms; or 10 days after positive test if asymptomatic

 Close Contacts

-Contacts who are unvaccinated and have spent 15 minutes within 6 feet of the positive case throughout the day must quarantine and be kept out of school for 14 days after last contact with the positive case

-Contacts are ineligible for shortened quarantine due to close contact in a school setting

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