ILLINOIS — Students will be back in class in the fall, but school won’t be quite the same.
The director of the Illinois Department of Public Health expects Illinois to be in Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s, which begins Friday and allows for in-person classes, for some time. It’s unclear when there would be a widely-available and effective treatment for COVID-19. A treatment or vaccine would allow the state to advance to Phase 5 of the governor’s reopening plan.
State public health and school officials announced Tuesday the return of in-person instruction guidelines for the fall semester. The guidelines include flexible K-12 schedules that include the possibility of returning to remote learning if needed.
The new guidelines:
Require use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including face coverings;
Prohibit more than 50 individuals from gathering in one space;
Require social distancing whenever possible;
Conduct symptom screenings and temperature checks or require self-certification that individuals entering school buildings are symptom free; and
Increase schoolwide cleaning and disinfection.
Millions of dollars will go out to school districts for various things like technology for remote learning to personal protective equipment and even masks. Around 2.5 million cloth masks will be provided to students and staff of K-12 schools.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said some students might lose their mask and others may not wear them.
“If it’s medically necessary for them not to wear one, that’s obviously acceptable,” Pritzker said.
He didn’t say if there’d be discipline for defiant students. The governor said there won’t be penalties for school districts that don’t follow the orders.
“There’s no effort here to look to punish people,” Pritzker said. “The whole idea here is everybody has the same common interest to keep these children and the people who work there safe, so no.”
School districts will work with local health departments to develop their own region-specific plans for flexible scheduling that could be a blend of in-person and remote learning.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said it is not yet clear how long Illinois could remain in Phase 4.
“We’re going to be in this ‘Phase 4′ for quite a while,” Ezike said. “So let’s get started and then we’ll keep looking and evaluating.”
While there were specific metrics and timeframes for the state to advance from Phase 2 to Phase 3 and then to Phase 4, which begins Friday, Pritzker said the path to the final phase, when all restrictions are lifted, is unclear.
“It takes either a very effective, what you’re referring to as a therapeutic, a treatment, that will keep people out of the hospital and make it more just like having the flu at home or a vaccine,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said the federal government will evaluate potential treatments and vaccines.
“Six months ago we barely heard of this virus,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, said during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. But he said in six months’ time things are progressing rapidly and his team was preparing “to release recommendations on therapeutics and a vaccine.”
The Center Square – Greg Bishop