Tri-county Prevention Strategies for Schools
The Peoria City/County Health Department, Tazewell County Health Department, Woodford County Health Department, OSF HealthCare, UnityPoint Health, Carle Eureka Hospital, Heartland Health Services, and University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria strongly support in-person learning for school districts for the 2021-2022 school year with layered COVID-19 prevention strategies that are outlined in the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for K-12 schools, and fully adopted by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
The health departments and healthcare systems recognize that to bring students back to in-person learning requires a safe and healthy way to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 virus.
School districts’ return plans need to include the following prevention strategies:
• Promoting vaccination,
• Consistent and correct mask use,
• Physical distancing,
• Screening and testing to promptly identify cases, clusters, and outbreaks,
• Enhanced ventilation,
• Support for handwashing and respiratory etiquette,
• Staying home when sick and getting tested,
• Contact tracing, in combination with isolation, quarantine, and post-exposure viral testing, and
• Proper cleaning and disinfection.
We strongly recommend school districts begin the school year requiring that masks be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 years and older) who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We, along with the CDC and IDPH, recommend masking and physical distancing in schools as key prevention strategies, particularly as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise.
Currently, individuals under the age of 12 years are not eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine and therefore, this group of students will not be fully vaccinated when they return to in-person school this fall. The use of masks in schools by individuals who are unvaccinated will reduce school-based and community transmission of COVID-19, reduce the need for quarantine of students who are close contacts in school, and therefore keep more students learning in-person.
“There is an enormous amount of scientific data that continues to show masking is safe and effective in decreasing transmission of the virus. In addition, proper mask wearing does not create difficulty in breathing or other health issues,” states Dr. Michael Cruz, COO OSF HealthCare.
“With unvaccinated students wearing face coverings and following proper social distancing and handwashing protocols, we can greatly limit the chances of these students spreading the virus to their families as they return home from school each day,” adds James Nevin, MD, Vice President & Associate Chief Medical Officer, Carle BroMenn Regional Medical Center and Carle Eureka Hospital.
Prevention strategies in schools will continue to evolve as COVID-19 community transmission declines to lower levels for sustained periods and when individuals under the age of 12 years are eligible to be vaccinated.
According to Dr. Keith Knepp, UnityPoint Health, “As the more contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the state, it’s vital we reduce community spread. The good news is the COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly effective against this variant. If you or your child are eligible, but have not yet gotten vaccinated, we strongly recommend you do so as soon as possible.”
While acknowledging that school leaders and local school districts hold the ultimate authority and discretion to develop plans to return to school, the tri-county leadership promotes strategies that continue to be data driven and evidence-based in reducing the risk and likelihood of COVID-19 spread in school settings in order to maximize the benefits that in-person learning provides.
“We often see the number of deaths for adults, but we know that children can also have health complications, many of which result in long-term effects,” states Dr. Gregg Stoner, CMO, Heartland Health Services and Medical Director at Peoria City/County Health Department. “That is why it is imperative we follow prevention strategies in our schools. In addition, schools unable to assess and track COVID-19 vaccination status should consider expanding the masking requirement to all students and staff to wear masks, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. The ultimate goal is to provide a safe environment in our schools.”
For local information on the Tri-county community response to COVID-19, visit: