May 27, 2022

State Board of Education flips: Illinois schools will follow new CDC isolation guidance

Illinois schools will soon follow federal quarantine and isolation guidance for pupils who test positive for COVID-19, the Illinois State Board of Education announced Friday, a week after the agency cautioned schools against the plan.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday extended the new guidance to K-12 schools, prompting the Illinois Board of Education’s change.

The updated CDC guidance is meant to keep more students in school for longer periods of time amid a surging COVID-19 wave. The uptick in cases felt nationwide was brought on by the omicron variant and a post-holiday winter onslaught of record-breaking coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

“IDPH and ISBE plan to align with this guidance and will release updated guidance soon,” ISBE said in a Twitter statement. “The CDC made these changes to reflect accumulating evidence that demonstrates that the majority of transmission occurs during the early periods of infection.”

Most schoolchildren in Illinois returned to the classrooms this week. The city of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools, however, are at odds over a return to the classroom and in-person classes were canceled three days this week amid the ongoing dispute. Other districts have opted to begin the new year with remote learning. The fluid situation of the new year in schools also is exacerbated by a staffing shortage felt due to the sheer number of new cases in communities.

Since the beginning of January, school districts have scrambled to heed federal and state protocol which prioritizes in-person learning as much as possible during the pandemic.

In a statement posted on Twitter about 10 a.m. Friday, the state board announced that it will soon follow updated guidance for the CDC, which on Jan. 6 stated that isolation time can be cut in half for K-12 schools with some caveats.

“Combined with continued adherence to universal indoor masking and highly effective vaccines, these changes will allow more students to stay safely in person,” ISBE’s statement reads.

The state board said Illinois schools should await further details from both its own organization and also the Illinois Department of Public Health before implementing the new rules.

Previously, the state health department announced it would fall in line with the new COVID-19 isolation guidance from the CDC, but the state board of education had said that only applies to the general public.

On Dec. 27, the CDC issued new guidance related to isolation protocols amid viral exposure and infection – namely, that if someone tested positive for the coronavirus and was asymptomatic and vaccinated, or didn’t experience any symptoms, they could shorten their time in quarantine from 10 to five days. The CDC asks that for the remaining five days, those who have tested positive without symptoms be vigilant about proper mask-wearing while out and about.

Illinois state guidance for all schools states that if a student or employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, a probable case or exhibiting symptoms, they must isolate for 10 days from onset of symptoms or positive test. Close contacts, meaning those who’ve been exposed, also must isolate as part of the state’s mandatory exclusion guidance issued by the state health department. If someone is unvaccinated, they could be excluded for up to 14 days according to further guidance from local health departments.

That new guidance is expected to be updated, according to the Friday IBSE announcement, and would mean eligible people can cut isolation in half, quarantining for five days from onset of symptoms and positive test. If after the fifth day they’re no longer experiencing symptoms, they should try to obtain a negative COVID-19 test and also can return to public settings but are asked to wear a mask for the next five days, regardless of vaccination status.

The state also has guidance for test-to-stay protocols in Illinois schools, meaning a person who’s been exposed could show up to school and get tested at the first, third, fifth and seventh days after the exposure. If they test negative each time, they will be allowed to continue in the school. Test-to-stay options are only offered if other criteria outlined by local health departments is met, according to the IDPH, including that proper masking and social distancing was followed in each individual case.

Additional IDPH guidance includes an indoor mask mandate, as well as a requirement that all school employees be fully vaccinated or submit to at least once per weekly COVID-19 testing.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.