On Friday afternoon, the CDC updated its guidance for K-12 schools. Illinois public health officials quickly followed suit, with IDPH and ISBE stating that Illinois has “fully adopted” the CDC guidelines. Under the new guidelines, masking and physical distancing are still identified as the key prevention strategies to the transmission of COVID-19. However, vaccinated students/staff are no longer required to wear masks in school this fall. What is less clear is whether unvaccinated students/staff must continue to wear masks. While the CDC guidance that was “fully adopted” by IDHP recommends it, ISBE’s message to Superintendents interprets the guidance as “requiring masks for individuals who are not fully vaccinated.” A later tweet from ISBE was less definitive in answering the question – noting that the CDC says masks “should be worn indoors” by those unvaccinated. Neither the CDC nor IDPH/ISBE provided insight on how schools should distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated students/staff.
As for physical distancing, 3 feet should (not must) be maintained if it does not interfere with a school’s ability to provide full-time access to in-person learning. To that end, the CDC guidance emphasizes layered preventions including indoor masking, 3-foot distancing, screening testing, quarantining, isolation and testing for symptomatic individuals, and more to protect those who are not fully vaccinated. The guidance further acknowledges that schools should work with local public health officials to determine prevention strategies needed by monitoring levels of community transmission.
All of the agencies seem to be in agreement – that the priority for the 21-22 school year is students learning full-time in person. Yet, a recent communication from ISBE seemed to have slightly broadened the eligibility for remote learning. Under the Resolution adopted in May, 20201, schools must provide remote instruction for students who are ineligible for a vaccine and under a quarantine order. Now, the requirement for remote instruction also applies to those who are not vaccinated (regardless of the reason) and under a quarantine order. This revision does not yet appear on the ISBE website.