Issued July 28, 2021
As COVID-19 case counts continue to surge, based largely on the highly contagious Delta variant, the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) along with the Illinois Department of Public Health, strongly endorses the new CDC guidance calling for universal masking in all schools, K-12 and is revising its School Masking Guidance.
“Given new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant, CDC has updated the guidance for fully vaccinated people. CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”
The layered mitigation strategy includes:
- Vaccination: All eligible students and staff should be encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Vaccination remains the leading public health strategy to prevent COVID-19.
- Fully vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine if they have been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 and show no symptoms.
- Under the new CDC guidance, fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be tested 3-5 days after exposure and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. o Contact CCDPH to request an on-site vaccination clinic for your students and school community.
- Mask Use: Masks should be worn by all individuals aged 2 years and older while indoors, regardless of vaccine status.
- When individuals consistently and correctly wear masks, they protect themselves and protect others – especially important as many children at the elementary level are not yet eligible to receive vaccines.
- Students and staff who are masked and within 3-6 feet of a confirmed case are not considered close contacts in the new CDC guidance. This means that consistent and correct mask use will decrease the number of students needing to quarantine at home in the case of exposure. With masking, fewer students will miss in-person instruction.
- The expectation is that schools will follow the CDC masking guidance.
- Physical Distancing: It is recommended that schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distancing whenever possible within classrooms.
- To allow for physical distancing, it is recommended that schools stagger lunchtimes and avoid large gatherings like assemblies or large meetings.
- Screening, Testing and Reporting: Schools are encouraged, to implement screening and testing programs to promptly identify and report cases, clusters, and outbreaks.
- Ventilation: Improvements and enhancements made to ventilation systems can help reduce the concentration of virus particles indoors to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
- Hygiene: Good respiratory and hand hygiene should be practiced by all individuals, including covering coughs and sneezes, frequent handwashing, and hand sanitizer use.
- Staying home when sick: All individuals should stay home when they are ill to minimize the chance of spreading COVID-19.
- Contact tracing, Isolation, and Quarantine: Schools should continue to work with CCDPH to report cases for contact tracing and require isolation and quarantine as recommended for exposed or ill individuals.
- Cleaning: Proper cleaning and disinfection at least once a day can help to reduce the presence of virus on surfaces.
The use of “should” in the guidance does not imply that a strategy is optional.
Each of these topics is addressed in depth in (Guidance for K-12 schools). CCDPH would also like to draw your attention to the following best practices:
- Update your COVID emergency operations plan in preparation for the 2021-2022 school year
- Identify a single point of contact at your school when communicating with CCDPH
- Collect, update and maintain COVID-19 vaccination status among your students, faculty and staff so that if a case, cluster or outbreak occurs, swift action can be taken
CCDPH will be monitoring case rates closely. This guidance may change to recommend additional prevention strategies as rates change in suburban Cook County.
CCDPH shares your goal of implementing safe, in-person instruction this school year for all students, faculty and staff. Evidence supports the benefits of in-person instruction for a student’s academic achievement and social-emotional needs and development. Evidence also supports the use of the mitigation strategies to reduce COVID-19 transmission to keep schools open. It is the recommendation of CCDPH that all districts in suburban Cook County adopt the science-based, layered prevention strategies to reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools.
In addition, CCDPH endorses the CDC recommendation that all individual with weakened immune systems, or their family members mask in all indoor public places.