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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

McLean County Schools Report More COVID Cases, Quarantined Students 

Normal West signage
The hardest-hit school in the past week was Normal West high school, with 112 quarantined students and 15 positive tests, according to Unit 5.

UPDATED 12:50 p.m. | Hundreds of Unit 5 students were quarantined in the past week as McLean County faces a third wave in coronavirus cases, this time affecting more young people.

There were 400 students in Unit 5 who were newly quarantined over the past week, with 55 new students testing positive for the coronavirus, according to Unit 5’s data dashboard updated on Friday. The previous high for this year was last week (with 128 newly quarantined students and 43 positive tests).

The hardest-hit school in the past week was Normal West high school, with 112 quarantined students and 15 positive tests, according to Unit 5.

More and more students have been returning to in-person instruction in Unit 5 in recent weeks. On Monday, all in-person learners in grades 6-12 returned for four days per week in person.

Still, the number of quarantined students represents a small (but growing) percentage of students in Unit 5, which serves around 13,600 students. Unit 5 has deployed a number of public health precautions to protect students and staff, including daily wellness certifications for kids and a vaccination effort for employees.

During the early days of the pandemic, children (many doing remote learning at home) represented only a small percentage of COVID cases in McLean County. That’s changed in recent months. In the past week, 24% of all new cases in McLean County (110 of 460) have been children, more than any other age group, according to the health department. That’s part of a third wave that’s driven active case counts and testing positive rates to their highest levels since late January.

Health department public affairs coordinator Marianne Manko said Friday youth sports, particularly those played indoors, are driving the spike.

“We are finding more and more younger students who have been exposed to sporting events that (have) a lot of direct, face-to-face contact are now in isolation,” she said.

Another factor is that most children are not eligible to get vaccinated yet. Currently, only those 16 and up are able to get the vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use.

Other Central Illinois districts

Other districts are seeing similar increases.

District 87 had 93 students in quarantine during the week ending April 9, either because they had COVID-like symptoms or they were in close contact with a positive case, according to the district's data dashboard. Eight students tested positive themselves.

District 87 increased the amount of in-person learning at all grade levels on March 30. The Bloomington district has about 5,200 students.

Downs-based Tri-Valley school district has 63 students in quarantine, or about 5.8% of its students, according to its data dashboard. That’s the highest it’s been in about a month.

“We have seen an increase in Covid cases and exposure over the last few days at Tri-Valley,” the district said in an announcement Thursday. “Please help us by monitoring symptoms and NOT sending students to school that are symptomatic. It is hard to distinguish symptoms sometimes, so please err on the side of caution.”

In Stanford-based Olympia schools, about 4.8% of students are out for COVID-related reasons, including 11.7% of students at Olympia Middle School. The Lexington school district is also seeing elevated levels of students out for COVID-related reasons (around 4.7%), as of Tuesday.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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