If the Illinois school mask mandate is struck down, officials will still recommend them

·3 min read
More than 300 graduates take their spots in the gym for a graduation ceremony Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Richwoods High School in Peoria.
More than 300 graduates take their spots in the gym for a graduation ceremony Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Richwoods High School in Peoria.

PEORIA – Though a judge may rule as soon as Friday on whether to keep the statewide mask mandate for schools, the advice from top school administrators will remain the same – keep those masks on.

“It will still be our recommendation moving forward because we want everyone in school every day, and not have to use the remote learning option,” said Beth Crider, superintendent for the Peoria County Regional Office of Education.

Districts choosing to drop the mask mandate will likely see some changes in the way quarantines are handled, she said.

“We are able to access the new guidelines from the CDC of that five-day quarantine because we rigorously and aggressively mask in our public schools. So there will be some changes if a school district is no longer masking everyone," said Crider.

While children are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19, there are good reasons to keep them masked – especially children under 5 who are not yet eligible for vaccination, said Monica Hendrickson, administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department.

“They are still very good at being carriers of the virus and bringing it into their household,” she said.

A Sangamon County judge is considering the case, which would block Illinois schools from requiring people to wear masks in class, according to Capitol News Illinois. Of the 140 school districts across the state participating in the lawsuit filed last year, eight are in the Peoria area: Dunlap, two school districts in Metamora, Germantown Hills, Eureka, Brimfield, Morton and Limestone in Bartonville are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

More: Why Morton and Eureka school districts waited to sue over COVID mandates

A sign urging residents to wear face masks hangs from a beam as Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator, leads a news conference updating the COVID-19 situation in the Peoria area Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, at the Peoria City/County Health Department.
A sign urging residents to wear face masks hangs from a beam as Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator, leads a news conference updating the COVID-19 situation in the Peoria area Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, at the Peoria City/County Health Department.

COVID case numbers are dropping

The judgment would come as COVID-19 cases are beginning to decline in the Tri-County Area. Though the number of new cases is still very high – 4,168 new cases in the past week – it is down from record-breaking numbers in previous weeks.

“Last week we were at 667 new cases each day, now we are under 600, at 595,” Hendrickson said.

Hospitalizations have also stabilized, she said.

“While our ICU capacity remains relatively unchanged, with an average of 39 ICU beds in use each day, we did see a decrease in our non-ICU bed usage dropping to (an average of) 175 amongst the two hospital systems. Today, they are actually reporting 36 ICU beds in use, and 119 non-ICU beds in use,” Hendrickson said.

More: 3 Peoria-area COVID test sites won't reopen in 'foreseeable future' due to investigation

'We’re by no means in the clear'

While the pressure on the hospitals is easing, they are still experiencing significant staffing issues, said Bob Anderson, president of OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.

“We still have staffing shortages,” he said. “We have about a 20% higher absentee rate right now amongst our mission partners at St. Francis due to call offs for a variety of reasons.”

All hands on deck: OSF office workers train for duties at hospital, walk-in clinics

While there are still delays getting people into the emergency room from outlying regions, they are shorter than in weeks past, said Anderson.

“We are pleased to be able to bring people who need advanced care here to Peoria from the region in a more timely manner, but I would reiterate what’s been said before – we can’t let our guard down. We may have taken a step backwards from a precipice of really being in a very difficult spot in health care, but we’re by no means in the clear.”

Anderson stressed the importance of getting vaccinated and boosted.

“The patients that we are taking care of are, by far and away, unvaccinated, and it’s really tragic to have to have those conversations with families who have a loved one pass away at a relatively young age that may have been prevented had they had that vaccination.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 309-370-5087 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.

This article originally appeared on Journal Star: School officials still recommend masks if Illinois mandate struck down

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