The Lake County Health Department recommended Tuesday that schools transition to remote learning in light of a "substantial" transmission of coronavirus cases in the community.
Health officials said the recommended virtual learning for both private and public schools should protect students, staff and their families from the virus.
“We have been seeing ‘substantial’ community transmission of COVID-19 in Lake County for seven consecutive days, with rates of new cases that we haven’t seen since the spring,” Mark Pfister, executive director at the Lake County Health Department, said. “We continue to work closely with our school superintendents to equip them with data and tools to make informed decisions."
Pfister said the decision is now up to individual school districts to use expertise in making the "difficult decision for the health and safety of their school communities and the greater Lake County community as a whole."
On Oct. 11, the seven-day rolling average new case rate in Lake County was above 14 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a release. Over the past week, the rate has risen to over 20 cases per 100,000 residents.
According to the Northern Illinois Return to Schools Metrics plan, which Lake County uses, over 14 new cases per day per 100,000 residents is considered "substantial" community transmission of the coronavirus.
The health officials' remote learning recommendation says schools can return to hybrid learning once Lake County returns to a "moderate" level, or seven COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, for seven consecutive day, a release said.
“Schools are being asked to utilize virtual learning not because schools are the main driver of our new infections, but because the levels of community transmission warrant extra measures to keep our students, staff, and their families safe," Pfister said. "Schools alone cannot bear this burden—we must all take personal responsibility to keep this virus from spreading in any way that we can.”
The DuPage County Health Department also recommended that schools continue remote learning as coronavirus cases and positivity rates surge forward, but some schools are moving ahead with plans to hold at least some in-person learning in their districts.
Students in Glenbard North’s District 87 returned to their classrooms on Monday, while in Downers Grove District 58, students will start a hybrid learning plan on Tuesday.
“I think they need school, but at the same time I want it to be done safely,” Downers Grove parent Theresa Arnold said.
The decision to move back to a hybrid or in-person model for learning comes on the heels of a DCHD announcement recommending schools implement remote learning for most students.
Community transmission of the coronavirus is becoming more widespread, with DuPage County potentially facing new mitigation restrictions as a result of an elevated positivity rate in the region. According to metrics available from the Illinois Department of Public Health, Region 8, comprised of Kane and DuPage counties, has exceeded the 8% positivity rate threshold to trigger new coronavirus mitigation restrictions, and if the number doesn’t come down in coming days, then indoor service at restaurants and bars will be stopped, among other rule changes.
“We’re looking to inform decisions by districts,” DuPage County Health Department official Chris Hoff, director of community health resources, said. “We want to really help them to understand community transmission and outbreaks that are occurring so they can make informed decisions.”
Not all schools are moving forward with in-person or hybrid learning. Naperville Unit District 203, which had planned to move into a new phase of its reopening plan this week, will instead continue online learning programs for most students in the district.
According to a letter to parents, only K-12 specialized programs will be allowed to continue with in-person learning, Supt. Dan Bridges said.
Early childhood and elementary students will remain on their normal schedules. Junior high students and high school students will stick with their “10% model” of in-person instruction for targeted students, according to the letter.
In Elmhurst District 205, all students will be moved to remote learning beginning on Wednesday and running through at least Nov. 4, according to a press release.
“This decision is not an easy one in a community that so highly values education and in-person learning,” Dr. David Moyer, Superintendent of Schools, said. “The District 205 Leadership team, our teachers and staff have worked hard to keep our schools physically open and we look forward to our students’ return to the classroom as soon as possible.”
According to the DCHD, the weekly case count in DuPage County has risen to 119 cases per 100,000 residents in the county, a 34% increase over last week.
School districts moving to hybrid learning models say they will keep a close eye on health metrics, and will not hesitate to move back to remote learning if required to do so.
“If we see multiple consecutive weeks of the metrics not improving, we may need to move back to a fully remote learning environment,” Downers Grove Supt. Dr. Kevin Russell said.