For Release: July 29, 2021
Contact: Tom Hughes
Illinois Public Health Association
IPHA Statement on COVID-19 Prevention Strategies for Return to School for Fall 2021
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – In an effort to prioritize in-person learning in an equitable, safe environment that is accessible by all, regardless of vaccine status, age, underlying health conditions, or any other educational or health needs, the Illinois Public Health Association (IPHA) unequivocally recommends that all school districts returning to in-person learning institute universal masking for all faculty, staff, and students in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
IPHA is in full support of updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking recommendations, and the full adoption of updated masking recommendations from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) released this week (July 27).
The science is clear that when done properly, additional layered mitigation strategies that prevent transmission in school settings are also warranted, as outlined by the CDC, and fully adopted by IDPH, and include:
- 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, testing, and,
- Proper cleaning and disinfection.
According to CDC data, the current Delta variant is significantly more contagious, spreading twice as easily between individuals. With low rates of vaccination among K-12 students in the school districts, it is imperative that all mitigation strategies listed above are followed, including universal masking of students, teachers, and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
Currently, all students under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and as of July 27, only half of all students 12-18 have been vaccinated in Illinois. Therefore, vaccination rates remain too low in the state to support optional masking in any indoor setting where students are less than 6 feet apart and spend more than 6 hours indoors together in congregate settings.
As demonstrated in the previous school year, the use of universal masking will help prevent transmission of COVID-19 cases in the school as well as secondary spread to the community through households of school- aged children. Universal masking will also decrease the number of students who need to quarantine, when coupled with other mitigation strategies, preventing additional days of lost education for students and a disruption to the learning environment.
Local health departments and school districts must work together to follow best practices as set forth by public health agencies. Illinois can, and should, ensure the safe return of students this fall. Vaccination of all individuals ages 12 and older and universal masking are the most effective and best preventive strategies to ensure a safe return to in-person learning. We all have a responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 to protect each other, including our students, teachers, staff, schools, businesses, and communities.
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