The state has released new guidelines for schools, colleges and universities to return to in-person learning in the fall as the state prepares to enter Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s reopening plan on Friday, June 26.
During a news conference Tuesday in Chicago, Pritzker said every school, district and institution must develop its own individual plan based around common public health guidelines that include limiting group meetings to 50 or fewer people, cleaning and disinfecting facilities and conducting regular symptom checks.
He also cautioned that schools could be forced to return to remote learning in the event of a surge in infections and hospitalizations or a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said districts and individual schools will soon send additional information to parents and students.
Pritzker first ordered all public and private schools, including colleges and universities, to close for in-person instruction on March 13 as part of the state’s initial response to the pandemic. That was modified on June 4 when schools were allowed to offer limited in-person instruction and summer school programs as part of Phase 3 of the reopening plan.
Dr. Ngoki Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said the reopening being allowed this fall is the result of significant declines in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations since the peak of the pandemic in Illinois. Those declines, she said, are the result of the vast majority of Illinoisans following basic safety guidelines that include frequent hand-washing, wearing face coverings when in public and practicing social distancing.
In advance of schools reopening, Ezike strongly encouraged parents and guardians to make sure their children are up to date on their vaccinations and that all Illinoisans get caught up on basic wellness procedures, including cancer screenings. She noted there have been steep declines in those procedures since the pandemic began.
As of Tuesday afternoon, June 23, she said the Department of Public Health reported 601 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 38 virus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing the statewide totals to 137,825 cases and 6,707 deaths. She said the state has seen five consecutive weeks of declining new cases and fatalities.
As of midnight Monday, there were 1,648 patients hospitalized for the disease including 424 in intensive care units, 236 of whom were on ventilators. Those all represent sharp declines from the peak of the pandemic in April and May.