DeKALB – With high transmission rates of COVID-19 reported in the community, DeKalb School District 428 officials want to ensure that students and staff start classes this fall in good health.
Members of the school board were briefed Tuesday on the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan for the 2022-23 school year.
The district plans to maintain a lot of the measures it employed last school year in response to the pandemic, now in its fourth impacted school year.
Kyle Gerdes, district director of student services and homeless liaison, said there may not be a seismic shift in any of the district’s mitigation efforts.
“We are going to continue with a lot of the things we did last year, which is encouraging hygiene, hand-washing, making sure that there’s access to hand sanitizer available to staff and students,” Gerdes said. “We’re going to continue with trying to provide not six feet of social distance, but three feet of social distance between students when possible, knowing that there are certain classrooms or spaces where that’s not a realistic expectation, but when possible we are going to try and space our students and staff out as much as we can.”
Gerdes touted efforts to replace air filtration systems in the district’s school buildings the past two to three years as playing an important part in the COVID-19 mitigation plan.
Masks will remain optional in most school facilities, except those entering the district’s health offices when experiencing virus-like symptoms.
“They are recommended given our high community transmission level, but it is not a mandate that anybody wear a mask in schools,” Gerdes said.
According to state health department data, DeKalb County reports about 33.1 cases per every 100,000 residents, with 16% of ICU beds available in the county. As of Wednesday, 56.74% of DeKalb County residents are fully vaccinated, a status that health officials continue to stress offers the best chance at fighting the more severe cases of infection, and warding off hospitalization.
Test results from at-home rapid tests do not get reported and are not counted in the official total.
As of Friday, DeKalb County was considered at high risk for community spread of the virus, according to the IDPH, prompting health officials to recommend indoor mask use for all regardless of vaccination status.
Under the latest district guidance, if a DeKalb student is positive for COVID-19, they will be excluded from school activities for five days, Gerdes said. Masking will then be required for days 6 through 10.
School officials stress that the guidance is subject to change as the situation around COVID-19 evolves.
There will be some differences noted in the district’s mitigation plan compared to last year.
The district is engaging in discussions with SHIELD Testing for a new optional testing program for staff and students.
Previously, all students participated in weekly SHIELD Testing, which was a weekly surveillance testing program funded through the state unless parents chose to opt out their children.
There are two options for school officials to choose from: One involves a centralized testing site and another relies on unobserved testing. No decision has yet been made.
Gerdes said the district is leaning toward unobserved testing, which logistically allows an individual to sign up for saliva testing, pick up a tube, collect a sample and bring it back the next day for analysis.
The district will, however, continue to offer rapid antigen testing for those who may need it.
Gerdes said the biggest change is that the district is no longer abiding by the guideline that excluded students from school for being a close contact.
“This change is going to be pretty significant for both students and teachers because it’ll be less students that are excluded from school, which means a continuation of in-person instruction,” Gerdes said. “With the exclusion date only being five days, as opposed to at one point in time we were looking at 10 days, any disruption to education will be less than it was before. And again, we’ll continue with remote learning during that time.”
Contact tracing will not be performed by the school district should anyone test positive for COVID-19, school officials said.
The district plans to keep consulting with the local health department for guidance.