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New guidance on school re-entry amid COVID asks parents to report confirmed cases to schools

The regulations, released in partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education, put the responsibility of reporting a confirmed coronavirus case in a student on the parent or guardian.
The regulations, released in partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education, put the responsibility of reporting a confirmed coronavirus case in a student on the parent or guardian.

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Further guidance on COVID-19 tracing and reporting rules as schools look to open in Illinois by the end of the month were released Wednesday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The regulations, released in partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education, put the responsibility of reporting a confirmed coronavirus case in a student on the parent or guardian.

According to ISBE's website, the FAQ document released Wednesday is meant to be a supplement to the already released rules for COVID-19 transmission protocols in schools from July.

What if a case is confirmed in my district?

Under the guidance, parents or guardians are expected to report a confirmed case in their child to the district, who will then report to the district-wide community as outlined in each district's rules, keeping in mind privacy laws which do not allow certain identifying information to be released.

"Schools should ask parents or guardians to notify the school as soon as possible with any confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases," the report reads. "It is important that schools communicate this expectation to parents or guardians early and often."

The guidance states that although local health departments receive regular daily updates on new confirmed COVID-19 cases, that data may not always include identifying a case with a school, therefore, the onus falls on parents to do that.

"The local health department will also receive a report of a confirmed or probable case from either a lab or provider," the document states. "However, the report does not necessarily include school information (unless the school was the test submitter). This means that the department must obtain this information by interviewing the case/parent/legal guardian. The department will notify the school as soon as they have acquired the school information. Schools should identify a point of contact for local health departments, including someone who can be reached after hours."

For districts moving forward with in-person classes, additional information was outlined Wednesday detailing transmission protocols to limit potential spread of the viral respiratory disease.

Students with a confirmed or presumed COVID-19 case must isolate for 10 calendar days, documents show, and all siblings or members of the same household with a confirmed case must also isolate for that period.

The IDPH/ISBE documents identify a school outbreak as "two confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections occurring within 14 calendar days of each other in individuals in the same classroom."

Decisions on whether to close a school due to COVID-19 cases will be made by district leaders and the local health departments, according to the documents.

How will contact tracing work?

Contact tracing will be done through local health departments using public health guidelines which state that anyone who has had close contact (less than six feet away) from a person with a confirmed case for a cumulative 15 minutes per day (not 15 minutes all at once) must also isolate. That contact guidance includes for buses and classrooms.

Music classes should be held outside as possible, documents show, or inside with windows open if able. Sharing of instruments is discouraged.

School districts are responsible for notifying the general district community of COVID-19 cases (in students, athletes, staff, or any other member of the community). Districts are required to provide relevant information to their district community and health officials, and HIPAA does not prohibit contact tracing.

What about testing?

According to the guidance, all students and staff who are sent home form a district building with COVID-19 symptoms should be diagnostically tested, though the guidance doesn't state if or how districts will require testing, and if testing will be provided by districts or up to the parent or staff person to obtain themselves.

"Medical evaluation and COVID-19 testing is strongly recommended for all persons with COVID-like symptoms," the guidance states.

To return to school after a positive or presumed positive case, patients need to isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms and be free of 100.4 degree fever for 24-hours prior.

Students and staff sent home with symptoms who do not get tested and who don't provide a doctor's note proving they've had a different illness will need to isolate 10 days and be fever-free for 24 hours prior to returning.

Patients who remain asymptomatic after their period of isolation need not have a doctor's note to return to school, documents state.

For students with asthma or other illnesses which require a nebulizer treatment -- a compact air compressor which can blow air out into a room, not recommended for use by those with COVID-19 -- district nurses will still be able to administer those, but should be scheduled at home as preferred, or in an isolated room with a window or fan.

What PPE is required?

All persons on school grounds must wear a face covering at all times when in school or on a bus unless specific exemptions apply, the guidelines state. Those with medical exemptions for a face covering are required to provide medical proof, according to the guidance.

Daily washing of cloth face masks are recommended. School nurses must wear an N95 respirator, eye protection with face shields or goggles, a gown and gloves (the same required for district cleaning staff).

Removal of face coverings is allowed under the ISBE guidance, but only for eating, when outdoors when social distancing, when playing a musical instrument outdoors, or if a person has a face shield on.

Face shields are not recommended, however, as a replacement to a mask, as COVID-19 can travel through respiratory droplets and be expelled from the sides and bottom of the shields, the guidance states.

Students with Individualized Education Programs or a 504 Plan under ISBE guidance can not be denied access to any building, even if they're unable to wear a face covering, though staff working with those students should continue to wear PPE as able.

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