PEORIA (WEEK) -- Local health departments and hospitals in the Tri-County area of Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties have released its COVID-19 prevention strategies for schools as students return to the classroom next month.
In the press release by the public health departments, OSF HealthCare, UnityPoint Health, Carle Eureka Hospital, Heartland Health Services and the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, the local health leaders are “strongly” recommending the use of face masks indoors when the school year begins for those who have not been fully vaccinated, ages 2 and older.
The organizations say they are following the guidelines put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was then adopted by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
"We, along with the CDC and IDPH, recommend masking and physical distancing in schools as key prevention strategies, particularly as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise," the combined press release read.
Those under the age of 12 not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, so, the health officials say the use of masks in school by those who are unvaccinated "will reduce school-based and community transmission of COVID-19, reduce the need for quarantine of students who are close contacts in school, and therefore keep more students learning in-person."
The press release also states the health departments and hospitals acknowledge school leaders and local districts hold the "ultimate authority and discretion" to develop its own plans for the return to school.
“We often see the number of deaths for adults, but we know that children can also have health complications, many of which result in long-term effects,” states Dr. Gregg Stoner, CMO, Heartland Health Services and Medical Director at Peoria City/County Health Department. “That is why it is imperative we follow prevention strategies in our schools. In addition, schools unable to assess and track COVID-19 vaccination status should consider expanding the masking requirement to all students and staff to wear masks, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. The ultimate goal is to provide a safe environment in our schools.”
The health departments and hospitals laid out the following prevention strategies for when students return to the classroom:
- Promoting vaccination,
- Consistent and correct mask use,
- Physical distancing,
- Screening and testing to promptly identify cases, clusters, and outbreaks,
- Enhanced ventilation,
- Support for handwashing and respiratory etiquette,
- Staying home when sick and getting tested,
- Contact tracing, in combination with isolation, quarantine, and post-exposure viral testing, and
- Proper cleaning and disinfection.