With Illinois officials hoping to fight back against increases in coronavirus cases and positivity rates, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike both said Monday that part of the incentive to push back against those increases is that it would allow more students to attend school in-person this year.
Speaking at a press conference Monday, both officials said that lowering coronavirus numbers in the state could allow more students to get back into classrooms, a goal that has caused plenty of debate in school districts across Illinois.
“Following public health recommendations will bring our numbers down, save our economy and let more of our kids go to school,” Pritzker said. “We all have the power to make a different to keep our economy open and our kids going back to school.”
Pritzker’s comments come as the state looks to confront worrying trends in both new cases and positivity rates. The state has reported more than 25,000 new coronavirus cases over the last week, a new record and one of the worst outbreaks in the nation, and has also seen its positivity rate increase by more than 60% over the last 16 days.
Between new mitigations and encouraging residents to adhere to social distancing and facial covering guidelines, official said that stopping the spread of the virus could potentially lead to more students being able to head back to classrooms in the future.
“We want to be able to safely dine indoors. We want our kids to go back to school,” Ezike said. “We want loved ones to get their visits in long-term care facilities. We all have the power to make this happen.”
The decision on whether to reopen schools for in-person or hybrid learning has largely been left up to school districts during the pandemic. Many have tried multiple models, with some schools having to scale back on in-person learning after coronavirus outbreaks in many areas of the state.
Pritzker says that he wants school districts to continue to lead the way in terms of guidance and mitigations, saying that officials in local areas are familiar enough with situations on the ground to make good decisions to keep students and faculty safe.
“We’ve left it up to local school districts and local schools to put in their own mitigations to make sure that they’re keeping their students safe, their teachers safe, the parents safe and all the people that work in schools safe,” Pritzker said. “Each school is a little bit different, has a different number of kids in it, a different number of teachers, etc. They’re the ones who know best how to arrange their school, and they together with the parents and school board, they want to keep everybody safe, and so we’ve given them the opportunity to do that.”