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Less stringent CDC guidance will mean quicker return to school for Bloomington-Normal students and teachers

A nurse tests a student for COVID-19
Jon Cherry
/
Getty Images
Only 17.5% of children ages 5 to 11 in McLean County are fully vaccinated, although about one-third have received one dose. For those ages 12 to 17, the vaccination rate is 61.5%.

Bloomington-Normal students and teachers with COVID-19 could be able to return to school much more quickly, some starting as soon as this week.

The CDC on Thursday released new, less stringent recommendations for students and school employees. The reason: Data shows that the majority of coronavirus transmission "occurs early in the course of illness," the CDC explained — generally in the one or two days before symptoms begin and two or three days after.

Instead of 10 days in isolation, the CDC says those with COVID can now generally return in five days. That CDC change has now trickled down to the Illinois State Board of Education, which said Friday it “plans to align with this guidance and will release updated guidance soon.”

Unit 5, the largest school district in Bloomington-Normal, notified parents this weekend that it is “working to adjust our quarantine and isolation periods based on these new regulations. The district is still awaiting guidance on some details.” A similar message was sent to employees.

Some changes are already in effect, meaning some students have revised return-to-school dates. Any Unit 5 student who tested positive is now only required to be excluded from school for five full days as long as they are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of medicine) and have a reduction in all symptoms by Day 5. It’s an even more firm 5 days if the person never developed symptoms.

Any Unit 5 student who was a close contact and not fully vaccinated is now only required to be excluded from school for five full days as long as they are asymptomatic. If symptoms develop, a negative PCR COVID test is required before the student can return to school.

Similar changes are taking effect for employees. That means more staff could return to work Monday than would have before the guidance changed, although it’s unclear exactly how many will do so because it depends in part on who has symptoms.

The stakes are high. Bloomington’s District 87 canceled classes on Friday because of staffing issues related to the high number of COVID cases and quarantines in the community.

Unit 5 reported around 636 cases of COVID among students and staff during the week of Jan. 2-8, according to the district's data dashboard. That's by far the most for any given week since the start of the school year, and it coincides with record-breaking COVID spread across the community. Another 569 students and staff are in quarantine.

In the smaller District 87, around 222 students and 32 employees tested positive for COVID during the week of Jan. 3-7, according to the district's data dashboard. Another 335 students are quarantined for being a close contact of a positive COVID person. Those are also records for this school year.

District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly sent out updated guidance on Monday afternoon, saying "effective immediately" the district's nine schools would adopt the CDC's shortened quarantine guidelines.

“This should help get both students and staff back sooner,” Reilly told WGLT in a previous statement.

In a letter sent to D87 parents, Reilly said the district would contact students or staffers whose isolation period would be reduced as a result of the changes "as soon as possible."

There are other benefits for those who are fully vaccinated that would reduce educational disruption. (Vaccines are now available for anyone ages 5 and up.) Those who are vaccinated don’t have to quarantine even if they’re a close contact of a COVID-positive person, though they should be sure to mask up. If they’re not vaccinated, the quarantine is five days.

Only 17.5% of children ages 5 to 11 in McLean County are fully vaccinated, although about one-third have received one dose. For those ages 12 to 17, the vaccination rate is 61.5%.

WGLT’s local newsroom is expanding, and we’re doing more to tell the stories of Bloomington-Normal. When you support, we report. Contribute during the Spring Fund Drive.

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