What schools are saying about masks so far as COVID-19 cases are up 10%
With schools on the verge of welcoming kids back once again amid a pandemic, several suburban districts will continue policies of recommending but not mandating face masks.
At Elgin Area School District U-46, "masks will not be required, but encouraged. We staffed at the same levels as last year in order to try to increase social distancing to the best of our abilities," said Tony Sanders, superintendent of the state's second-largest district.
"As in past years, not just for COVID but to prevent all illness (including influenza), we all need to practice appropriate behavior to prevent the spread of any virus, such as observing proper hand hygiene.
"We also will continue to encourage vaccinations for viruses including COVID and influenza," said Sanders, adding a detailed plan will be presented at an Aug. 8 meeting.
The update comes as highly contagious variants of COVID-19 proliferate in the region. The average of new cases of COVID-19 climbed by 9.6% in a week, while hospitalizations grew by 3%, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Friday.
The Daily Herald sampled a number of districts across the suburbs on back-to-school COVID-19 policies. The state relaxed a masking rule in schools in February amid legal battles as hospitalizations decreased.
In Cook County, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 "will continue to carefully review the recommendations of our local health department as we do with other communicable diseases," spokesperson David Beery said.
Regarding face coverings, "individuals continue to have the opportunity to wear masks," Beery said.
At Woodland Elementary District 50 in Lake County, "we will have masks available if anyone wishes to wear one," spokesperson Brooke Hagstrom said.
"The main thing we are doing is continuing to offer weekly SHIELD testing for those that wish to participate," Hagstrom said, referring to saliva-based test program created by the University of Illinois.
She said the district will continue with "some of our heightened cleaning practices" and offer visual cues to encourage kids to distance and wash their hands. "But we will not be requiring desks to be a certain number of feet apart, and it will be normal cafeteria practices," she said.
Meanwhile in Naperville Unit District 203, "we are working on finalizing our plans for the school year and will be sharing soon with the community," spokesperson Alex Mayster said.
Illinois' largest district, Chicago Public Schools, will continue with a masks "strongly recommended" policy, officials said.
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported 66 Illinois counties are registering high rates of virus transmission, including the entire Chicago region.
The seven-day average for new cases stands at 5,053, compared to 4,610 on July 22. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 reached an average of about 1,449 patients Thursday, in contrast to nearly 1,406 on July 21.
New daily cases of COVID-19 totaled 5,913 Friday, with five more people dying from the respiratory disease. The seven-day average for deaths is seven people, a number that remains fairly constant.
Patients in the hospital with COVID-19 came to 1,459 as of Thursday night.
On Thursday, 13,031 more COVID-19 shots were administered, higher than the seven-day average of 12,671.
So far, 8,780,574 Illinoisans have been fully vaccinated, or 69.3% of the state's 12.7 million population, according to the CDC. The agency defines fully vaccinated as two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's.
Total COVID-19 cases statewide stand at 3,563,653, and 34,357 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.