Kane County school doors are reopening, an event that’s set off alarm bells among local health officials over the past couple of years. But the county health department took on a different tone this week when talking about back-to-school, a reframing in line with recent changes to COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
“We believe the absolute worst of the pandemic is over,” said Michael Isaacson, the new executive director of the Kane County Public Health Department.
The new COVID-19 recommendations don’t require pre-screening, quarantining or testing to remain in school buildings. That comes despite the county’s current status as a “High” community level of transmission area. COVID-19 cases account for 13.4% of hospital admissions so far in August. The number of known, confirmed cases remains above 200 per 100,000 people. That high transmission level means medical experts recommend the universal use of masks for indoor group settings, but there is no actual requirement to wear masks.
Uche Onwuta, the county’s director of health protection, said the changes nationally and locally stem from the higher percentage of vaccinated people, the abundance of home test kits and the creation of more treatments to prevent severe illness from the infection.
Health officials said they will remain active in making tests available through the schools and advocating vaccination.
“The most important preventative measure for COVID-19 is vaccination,” Onwuta said. “We are focusing on when to mask and how to manage cases and exposures and outbreaks. The key here is layering, especially for students who are not recommended to wear masks, you want to look at maintaining improved ventilation and the associated preventative measures.”
Those measures include ongoing contact between local school superintendents and the health department as well as regular meetings with other school personnel and continued attention to cleaning.
Health officials also updated county board members this week on the presence of monkeypox in the area. There are 851 cases in Illinois. Eight of those cases are in Kane County, including five cases in Aurora, two cases in Elgin and one case in Carpentersville. Men account for seven of the county’s cases. There is also one female case.
The health department is making the monkeypox vaccine available to people who have been in close contact with someone who has the virus as well as people at high risk for exposure.