With two Crystal Lake schools temporarily returned to remote only education and neighboring Lake County recommending the same for all their school districts, the McHenry County Department of Health did not issue any updated recommendations for schools Tuesday.
With cases increasing, the county as a whole is facing the possibility of "restricted movement" and it is possible that more school districts in McHenry County could make the decision to go virtual, department spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said Tuesday.
The metrics released by the McHenry County health department about a month ago show the county is headed in the wrong direction:
The incidence rate has climbed to 22 cases per 100,000 residents as of Oct. 17, the last day the data was updated, well the threshold of 14 cases set by the health department as one of criteria to be considered when moving between more or less in-person instruction. The test positivity rate has reached the 8% threshold as well. Hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 are fluctuating, and the weekly count of new cases has been rising since Sept. 13.
The McHenry County health department advised school districts to consider moving from hybrid models to remote when two or more criteria are not met.
Woodstock School District 200 last week announced it would push back its switch to hybrid learning a week as a result of the metrics.
Since then, Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47's Lundahl Middle School has closed its doors to in-person learning for two weeks as a result of what the health department has classified as an outbreak, the superintendent said. Crystal Lake High School District 155 has also shuttered one of its schools, Prairie Ridge High School, as the department evaluates a number of cases there.
Six cases have been associated with the Lundahl Middle School outbreak, Superintendent Kathy Hinz said. The district as a whole, which moved to hybrid learning Oct. 5, has had 15 cases as of Friday, according to the district's COVID-19 dashboard.
Many factors influence whether a school closes, Salvatelli said.
“We have from the very beginning [made] the decision to permit the schools ... to publicly alert individuals and also communicate with their students, parents, and guardians about the status of cases within their particular school or districts,” she said. “We would advise them on mitigation strategies, if we did notice that they're beginning to have increased numbers.”
Although individual schools may have positive cases, it may not necessarily be linked to in-person courses or the school itself, Salvatelli said.
The cases tied to Prairie Ridge High School are linked to off-campus gatherings, the district said in a Facebook post.
Concerns of possible COVID-19 transmission on school buses have recently caused student and transportation staff in Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 and District 200 to quarantine.
About 50 people associated with Lundahl Middle School have had to quarantine, partly due to experiencing close contact with cases on the bus, Hinz said during a school board meeting Monday.
“The quarantines that are happening typically are not happening from classroom contact because our desks are spaced 6 feet apart. The quarantines that are happening are typically occurring because of the bus,” Hinz said.
“Because on the bus, we are not doing the social distancing, which is not a requirement of [the Illinois Department of Public Health]. … When we do quarantine, it usually happens because we look at the seating chart on the bus and we go 6 feet around a positive case.”
District 200 has not yet started hybrid learning, but some students in special programs are being transported in very small groups, District 200 spokesman Kevin Lyons said Tuesday.
There, one transportation staffer has tested positive for COVID-19 and another transportation worker has elected to quarantine for 14 days due to potential exposure instead of taking a test for the virus, Lyons said.
Other transportation employees who had close contact with the infected staffer have been tested, and so far, those tests have been negative for COVID-19, Lyons said.
“There were four families who had children who could have had exposure to the infected employee, although we don't believe they were within 6 feet of the individual for more than 15 minutes,” Lyons said, referencing the district’s definition of close contact to a virus case. “Those families were notified via emailed letter.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department are saying that up to 50 people on a school bus is permitted, District 200 is “trying to keep numbers much lower than that,” Lyons said.
The district’s goal is to have no more than 30, but closer to 20 or fewer on a bus, he said.
Lyons said the district is also keeping assigned bus seating to account for possible exposure and to assist with contact tracing when necessary, he said.
About a third of District 200 families have indicated they plan to keep children in fully remote learning when the Woodstock school system begins hybrid learning, slated for next week if area case metrics improve. That proportion “alleviates the population riding buses,” Lyons said.
With COVID-19 cases increasing, Salvatelli said, McHenry County, and other areas across the state are facing the possibility of restricted movement.
In nearby Lake County, the local health department announced that, because of “substantial” community transmission of COVID-19 for seven consecutive days, that they are recommending schools go to virtual learning.
Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said in a news release the department will continue to work closely with school superintendents and help equip them with data and tools they need to make informed decisions.
“Now the decision is up to school districts, to use their expertise and authority to make this difficult decision for the health and safety of their school communities and the greater Lake County community as a whole,” Pfister said in release.
Lake County’s new case rate rose above 14 cases per 100,000 residents on Oct. 11. Since then, the rate has risen to more than 20 cases per 100,000 people in the county. More than 14 new cases per day per 100,000 residents is considered "substantial" community transmission of COVID-19, the health department said.
Under the Northern Illinois Return to School Metrics plan used in Lake County, it is at this point that a virtual learning model would be recommended. A hybrid learning model would be advised where the incident rate is between seven and 14 cases per 100,000 people, as this would mean moderate community transmission. Once Lake County returns to the “moderate” level for seven consecutive days, the health department will recommend hybrid learning.
"This is not a recommendation we take lightly,” Pfister said. “Schools are being asked to utilize virtual learning not because schools are the main driver of our new infections, but because the levels of community transmission warrant extra measures to keep our students, staff, and their families safe.”
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