By Colleen Lehmann
Douglas County Public Health Liaison
What would you be willing to do to help keep schools operational in your community?
When COVID-19 awareness in Illinois was in its infancy—with the first confirmed case on Jan. 24, 2020– attention to data and recommendations was at the center of a majority of residents’ minds and practices. Then came Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order on March 20, 2020, requiring all but the most essential of endeavors be stopped or sharply curtailed until April 7. That was later extended to May 29.
And on March 17, 2020, all Illinois schools were ordered closed to help stop the spread and flatten the curve of the virus’s reach. That measure also was extended beyond its original deadline, and the remainder of the 2019-20 school year passed with no classes in session.
Illinoisans, understandably restless after months with life put on hold, emerged from the return to allowed activities and pursuits with great enthusiasm. But as the 20-21 school year approached, COVID-19 cases in the state were on the rise. And now schoolchildren find themselves in an education alternative universe, with options of learning in person, remotely, and/or a hybrid of both.
So what are Douglas County schools doing to stop the spread and stay in session? In addition to wearing masks all day, logistics and cleaning are two essential components of the school day. Student foot traffic, classroom occupation, even the number of days students are in the buildings, are highly regulated to achieve maximum physical distancing. Cleaning and sanitizing of all rooms, surfaces, and materials happens multiple times a day. Daily monitoring of temperatures and symptoms is a precursor to even being allowed in school buildings.
And sometimes it’s more what they are not doing. Depending on grade level, students are not getting to participate in the full range of sports and extracurricular activities normally offered. They are NOT getting to congregate freely and regularly with non-classroom friends for lunch, recess, and study halls. They are not getting unfettered access to libraries and materials. And they wait every day for the uncertainty of what an uptick in COVID cases will do to their already altered school year.
This says nothing of the herculean efforts of administrators, teachers, support staff, and coaches in keeping abreast of guidelines — sometimes from multiple sources — and developing, implementing, and following plans to meet those guidelines in order to keep their students and themselves safe and healthy. They, too, anxiously wait for what the next day might bring to upset that delicate balance.
So, if hundreds of students and staff can go to these lengths to try to ensure that some measure of normalcy takes place this school year, why don’t we as community members consider taking some basic precautions to help the cause. We can wear masks when in public, wash our hands thoroughly and for at least 20 seconds multiple times a day, maintain physical distance from others as much as possible, and stay home when feeling ill or experiencing symptoms known to be associated with COVID-19.
Perhaps one of the kindest things we can do, and it doesn’t cost a dime, is to practice patience and understanding with county school officials and staff as they continue to make education a priority in this COVID-19 world.