Dixon officials weigh in on rising COVID-19 cases, mitigations

All public schools must mask up following governor’s mandate

DIXON — The COVID-19 landscape continues to change with new guidance and mitigations, and local officials are unsure what that could mean for the fall.

Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said Lee County is doing better than others, and the city will echo recommendations from the local health department.

“I still think our region is doing relatively well, but our region is connected to other areas,” he said.

The Lee, Whiteside and Ogle county health departments are all recommending that employers, retailers, restaurants/bars, fitness/recreational centers, libraries, government entities, healthcare facilities and other public venues require universal indoor masking of their staff and patrons regardless of vaccination status.

Cases are going up throughout the Sauk Valley. Whiteside County Health Department reported Wednesday 16 new cases: six were for persons younger than 20, three were in their 20s, three in their 30s and another four were 40 and older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released updated recommendations that called for everyone to wear masks indoors in counties at substantial or high risk of virus transmission, as well as all students and staff in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. The change came as a result of concerns with rising COVID-19 cases, the quick spread of the delta variant and a slow-down in the pace of vaccinations.

Gov. JB Pritzker took the guidance a step further Wednesday and issued a mask mandate in all schools.

The Dixon School District plans to finalize its return to learn plan during the Aug. 11 School Board meeting.

Layering health precautions include cleaning and sanitizing all schools, hand washing breaks for students, hand sanitizing stations, bottle filler fountains, COVID-19 testing onsite, promoting vaccinations, ventilation, and encouraging sick individuals to stay home, according to Superintendent Margo Empen.

City Councilwoman Mary Oros said masking can be a hard conversation, especially with parents seeing it as a hot-button topic.

“There are a lot of ramifications that go into that, that maybe we as parents or civilians don’t understand or know all of the factors,” she said.

A group of anti-mask community members plan to rally at the board meeting wanting masking to be an option left up to parents.

Before the mask mandate, the Illinois Department of Public Health warned schools last week to check with their insurers if they don’t follow CDC mask guidance. Last year, cities and schools were warned that their state funding could be in jeopardy if they didn’t follow COVID-19 mitigations.

The IDPH also announced expanding free COVID-19 testing for all K-12 public schools Wednesday and changing the quarantine protocol, where students or staff who have been in close contact with an infected individual can choose to stay in school if they’re tested four times during the week.

In addition to schooling and masking indoors, officials are also concerned how stricter mitigations could affect businesses and other organizations.

For example, Councilman Mike Venier spoke about the revitalization of the Dixon Historic Theatre, and he hopes potential mitigations won’t be too severe. Its grand re-opening is slated for Sept. 4.

“We’ve done so much work, and we’re waiting to see where the mandates lead us,” he said.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.