Illinois schools now have new guidance on COVID-19 isolation and quarantine times as the state's board of education alters its guidelines to align with changes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Previously, Illinois' health department said it would align with the new CDC guidelines, but that such protocols would not apply to schools. Then last week, officials said they were considering a change.
"The state of Illinois has adopted the CDC’s updated guidance regarding COVID-19 prevention in K-12 schools. Based on that guidance, and the state’s executive orders, ISBE and IDPH have updated the public health requirements for schools and associated guidance in these guidelines," the Illinois State Board of Education announced late Tuesday.
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The new guidelines apply to all public and nonpublic schools serving students in prekindergarten through the 12th grade.
The CDC earlier this month shortened the isolation and quarantine times for those not experiencing symptoms to five days, followed by continued masking for five additional days.
"Combined with continued adherence to universal indoor masking and highly effective vaccines, these changes will allow more students to stay safely in person," ISBE said in a tweet last week.
Isolation guidelines for staff or students who test positive for COVID
Under the new guidance, any staff or student who tests positive for COVID, regardless of vaccination status, must "stay home for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10 days after the first day of symptoms" or the date of a positive test result. " They must also continue wearing a mask around others for five additional days after returning to school.
Those who are asymptomatic will be allowed to return to school after the five-day period, and those who experienced symptoms can also return if they are "fever-free without fever reducing medication for 24 hours, diarrhea/vomiting have ceased for 24 hours, and other symptoms have improved."
What about those who have COVID-like symptoms but have not yet tested positive?
Those who experience COVID-like symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, will need to stay home from school for at least five days and a maximum of 10 days, however long it takes for symptoms to subside, or until they receive a negative test.
This group must also continue masking for an additional five days after returning to school.
What if you were exposed to someone with COVID but have no symptoms?
According to the guidelines, the following people who are exposed to someone with COVID are considered close contacts and must remain home from school:
- Students and staff who are not fully vaccinated (completed primary series)
- Students and staff aged 18 years and older who have received primary COVID-19 vaccine doses but have not received a booster dose when eligible (“unboosted”)
As an alternative for those deemed close contacts, some schools may allow those without symptoms who were exposed in school during the school day, with the exception of extracurricular activities, to remain in school through a Test to Stay program.
Individuals without symptoms of COVID-19 who are not participating in Test to Stay:
- Must stay home for five days after the last contact with the person who has COVID-19
- Must wear a mask around others for five additional days and remain asymptomatic; and
- Should test for COVID-19 on day five. Those testing positive should be excluded from school and follow guidance for persons testing positive.
Who is considered a "close contact"?
Under the guidelines, a "close contact” is an individual who was within 6 feet of a confirmed or probable case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period.
Those not included under this category are:
• A student who was within 3 to 6 feet in a classroom setting for least 15 minutes with a confirmed or probable student case if both case and contact were consistently masked for the entire exposure period.
• Students and staff aged 18 years and older who have received all recommended COVID19 vaccine doses, including boosters for any individual who completed the PfizerBioNTech primary vaccination series beyond the past five months, the Moderna primary vaccination series beyond the past five months, or Johnson & Johnson Janssen’s (J&J) primary vaccination dose beyond the past two months (and additional primary doses for some immunocompromised people)..
• A student aged 5-17 years who completed the primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine.
• An individual on school transportation within 3 to 6 feet if both the confirmed case and the exposed individual were consistently and correctly masked during the entire exposure period and windows were opened (front, middle, and back, or overhead) to allow for good ventilation or HEPA filters were in use during transit.
• An individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days from date of exposure.
• An individual who is solely exposed to a confirmed case while outdoors; however,
schools may coordinate with their local health department to determine the necessity of exclusion for higher-risk outdoor exposures.
What about test to stay?
Under state guidelines, close contacts can remain in school despite COVID exposure to through a protocol known as "test to stay."
The protocol states that "following an exposure occurring in the school
setting that occur during the school day (excludes extracurricular activities), close contacts are permitted to remain in the classroom as long as close contacts are tested twice during the period between close contact notification/TTS enrollment and day 7 after exposure, with the last test occurring 5-7 days after last close contact from date of exposure with a NAAT (such as a PCR test) or rapid antigen test with emergency use authorization by the FDA and all results are negative."