CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday said the entire state is on track to move to Phase 4 of the plan to reopen the economy on Friday, and announced guidelines for schools and colleges to resume in-person classes in the fall.
“Classroom learning provides necessary opportunities for our students to learn, socialize, and grow. The benefits of in-person instruction can’t be overstated,” Pritzker said in a statement.
The governor said the state is providing guidance for preschools, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities to resume in-person learning in the fall.
For K-12 schools, that includes a cap of 50 people in one space, requiring students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings in school buildings, increasing cleaning and disinfection protocols, and enforcing social distancing rules wherever possible. The governor’s office also said schools should conduct symptom screenings or temperature checks, or require anyone entering a school building to self-certify that they don’t have COVID-19 symptoms.
The governor said, because each individual school has a different layout, and faces different challenges in how students get to and from school, it will be up to individual districts to set specific policies for how to implement those guidelines.
“I have every faith that, as we look ahead to the fall, our teachers, our professors, and our administrators will continue to do what they do best; dedicating their days to ensuring every student in this state receives the education that they deserve,” he said at a press conference at the Thompson Center.
Pritzker said, to help schools meet the requirement for face coverings, the state is providing cloth masks to every student, teacher, and staff member at every public school district in Illinois.
“In Illinois, a child’s ability to afford or acquire a face covering should have no impact on whether they can go to school, and it won’t,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker ordered all Illinois schools to halt in-person instruction in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic started hitting the state hard. The governor said schools should be prepared to go back to remote instruction if there’s another surge in virus cases in the fall.
The governor said the state also is distributing $510 million in federal funding from the CARES Act to help school districts address their COVID-19 response needs. Schools are encouraged to use the funding to provide laptops, tablets, and Internet access for students.
State officials have also secured joint purchase agreements that K-12 districts can use to obtain necessary safety supplies such as hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and PPE at prices lower than they would find on their own on the open market.
For colleges and universities, state guidelines include requiring face coverings in classrooms, and social distancing in all public places; as well as providing hand sanitizing stations throughout campus.
Colleges and universities are also encouraged to require students and staff to stay home if they have symptoms of the virus, and to consult a doctor for treatment. Faculty, staff, and students also are encouraged to get flu vaccines this fall to minimize the risk of a combined flu and COVID-19 outbreak overwhelming the hospital system.
If any student tests positive for COVID-19 after in-person instruction resumes this fall, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, much like any worker who might test positive after returning to their job, the student would have to isolate for at least 10 days after first displaying symptoms, and at least 72 hours after symptoms subside.
Ezike said school and public health officials also would have to identify anyone that student recently had close contact with to tell them to self-quarantine for 14 days while they wait to see if they also develop symptoms.
Ezike also urged parents to have their parents get back-to-school physicals, and any necessary immunizations before classes resume in the fall.
“Earlier during the pandemic, we have seen a decline in immunizations, so now it’s time to catch up. No more waiting; doctor’s orders,” she said.
Ezike said there could be another surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall, if not sooner, but said parents should take advantage of the declining cases while they can, not only to get their students necessary health screenings and immunizations, but to get checkups themselves.
“Your baseline health status affects how you fare against this virus,” she said.
Also Tuesday, state officials announced 601 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 38 new deaths in Illinois in the past day.
The governor said all four regions of the state are on track to begin Phase 4 of the “Restore Illinois” plan to reopen the economy on Friday.
“That’s a true testament to the people of Illinois, who have taken this pandemic seriously, and practiced the doctor-recommended mitigations, such as maintaining six feet of physical distance, wearing a face covering when in public places, and washing our hands regularly,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said those habits need to be reinforced during Phase 4 to avoid a significant spike in cases that would require the state to reinstate restrictions that have been lifted in recent weeks.
In addition to in-person instruction at schools, Phase 4 allows for cinemas, theaters, gyms, fitness clubs, zoos, museums, and indoor dining at bars and restaurants to reopen; but with capacity limits.