Unvaccinated children who traveled over the long Labor Day weekend may not be allowed back in classrooms just yet under guidance from some school districts in Chicago as the city updates its travel advisory recommendations.
Chicago Public Schools in a letter to parents last week said it would abide by new guidelines set out in the city's travel advisory, which require a seven to 10-day quarantine for unvaccinated travelers, even if they test negative for the virus upon arrival.
"Unvaccinated students who leave the state should not come to school during their self-quarantine period, which is seven days if they receive a negative test and 10 days if they do not test," the district wrote.
The requirement applies to any unvaccinated student, including those ages 11 and younger who are not yet eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. There is no quarantine requirement for children who are fully vaccinated, unless they develop symptoms.
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Those who did travel are being asked to report the quarantine-related absence to the school so it can be marked as "excused." After one school day, students in quarantine will be offered take-home work to keep them on track during that time.
These students will not be eligible for remote learning, however, as that is reserved only for students who must quarantine because of a close contact or because of guidance from the state or local health departments.
A similar plan is in place for the Archdiocese of Chicago, though the district is offering students the option to test out of quarantine.
"At this time, we are maintaining our travel quarantine requirements for non-vaccinated individuals, who must quarantine for 10 days or obtain a negative COVID test to avoid the need to quarantine," a letter to parents read. "Vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine after travel. In light of rising infections across the U.S., please be cautious when traveling with unvaccinated children."
The district's quarantine policy for positive cases and COVID exposure remain in place as well.
"As many prepare for the long holiday weekend, it’s important to stress that we’re all in this together – what happens outside the classroom will largely dictate how successful we are in keeping kids inside the classroom," Greg Richmond,
superintendent of schools, wrote last week.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said ultimately the decision will be left to parents and schools, but she urged those with unvaccinated kids to avoid traveling.
"It is higher risk," she said. "I would not recommend traveling, right, if you've got unvaccinated children, and particularly younger children. And the whole country is doing really badly from a COVID perspective right now."
Chicago updated its travel advisory recommendations for unvaccinated travelers last week, adding additional testing guidelines for those going to or coming from higher-risk locations as well as quarantining.
According to the city, before travel, unvaccinated individuals should:
- Get tested 3-5 days prior to departure.
- ALL individuals regardless of vaccination status should wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
- In Chicago, wear a mask in all indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status.
- Avoid crowds, try to stay at least 6 feet/2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who is not traveling with you, and wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
After travel, unvaccinated individuals should:
- Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days.
- Even if you test negative, stay home and self-quarantine for the full 7 days.
- If your test is positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected.
- If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
- Avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether you get tested or not.
The city advised all travelers to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and isolate and get tested if they develop any after travel.
"We have seen and know that travel is a significant risk factor for acquiring COVID," Arwady said. "If you decide not to get tested, the recommendation is actually to stay home and self quarantine for 10 days after travel, and you should avoid being around anybody who has an increased risk for severe COVID outcomes for 14 days after travel regardless of whether you get tested or not. Obviously we want anybody who's traveling to self monitor for COVID symptoms and get tested if you develop symptoms."
Nearly every U.S. state, with the exception of Vermont, is now on the city's travel advisory, which is updated every Tuesday.
"Unfortunately COVID is surging across the entire United States," Arwady said. "The average right now is at 39 cases per 100,000 per day. We're doing much better than that here in Chicago, but nevertheless the news remains not good from a COVID perspective at the national level."