The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is now recommending that all students and teachers should wear masks this coming school year.
The guidance falls in line with recommendations released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday, July 27. The new recommendations come as COVID-19 cases continue to rise and the Delta variant – a more contagious form of the virus – continues to spread.
The new CDC recommendations include guidance for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial spread of COVID-19. CDC guidance now includes that regardless of the transmission rate in an area, vaccinated people who live with unvaccinated people or immunocompromised people are also advised to consider wearing masks in indoor places.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has changed its guidance along with IDPH to suggest all students and teachers in K-12 schools wear masks in school, regardless of vaccination status. Previously, along with the CDC, it had suggested students and teachers who had been vaccinated do not need to mask in schools.
The ultimate decision is up to local school district leaders. “School boards that choose not to implement public health guidance are putting their students and staff at risk and should consult with their insurers as to potential liability,” ISBE spokesperson Januari Trader said, according to an article from Chalkbeat Chicago following the new guidance.
During its July 19 meeting, the District 186 Board of Education in Springfield reviewed part of a draft return plan that would not require that vaccinated students and teachers wear masks in schools. That was prior to the new CDC, IDPH and ISBE guidance.
A District 186 spokesperson wrote in an email to Illinois Times on the evening of Wednesday, July 28, “At our last board meeting, it was proposed that we will align our policy with IDPH and ISBE guidance, which was adopted from CDC guidelines. Our board will vote on our Return to Learn plan and discuss any changes, including COVID-19 mitigations, at our upcoming meeting on August 2.” The first day of school for District 186 is Aug. 23.
Along with the guidance for schools, IDPH has announced it will fully adopt the new CDC guidance.
“While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the Delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the head of IDPH, said in a press release on Tuesday, July 27. “Cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 both continue to increase, overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, but the risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the Delta variant. We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.”
CDC data shows that the Delta variant spreads “more than twice as easily from one person to another compared to other strains. According to CDC, the Delta variant is causing some vaccine breakthrough infections, but even so, most breakthrough infections are mild, and the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death,” the IDPH press release stated.
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