NEW LENOX, Ill. — It seems every day there are new reports of schools going back to remote learning amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.
Lincoln Way Community High School District 210 is the latest to return to remote learning after 101 Covid cases were confirmed among students and staff. The majority of cases occurred at Lincoln Way East, where 63 cases were confirmed and another 600 students are quarantining at home as a precaution.
The Will County Health Department said while it doesn’t appear the cases were the result of close contacts within the school, some of those infected admitted to attending a large Halloween party with about 100 Lincoln Way-area students.
Northwestern University epidemiologist Dr. Sadiya Khan said the rise in new COVID-19 cases started in late September and it’s “the exact same slope in every age group.”
“So if you wanted to blame schools and say that it’s kids under 20 that are partying and not listening or young adults or Millennials, it’s not any single age group, it’s happening everywhere,” Khan said.
While there’s an argument to be made that schools are not the source for the rise in new cases, experts say if there isn’t some sort of containment the number of cases will continue to grow.
The Illinois Federation of Teachers was against in-person learning even when the statewide positivity rate was much lower than it is now. With cases and hospitalizations on the rise, federation president Dan Montgomery said districts should move to full remote learning.
“Those kids, if they’re not already sick, their classmates and school staff will get sick if you don’t close the school,” federation president Dan Montgomery said. “ So, we are, I think just at a point here, where the community spread is so high that it’s really hard to have schools.”
The Illinois Department of Public Health’s website now tracks the number of Covid outbreaks in schools as well. As of last week, four districts in the Chicago area, three in McHenry County and one in DuPage County have reported outbreaks.
Lincoln Way’s return to remote learning also follows a pattern among schools in the Chicago area. As of Monday almost 28% of schools in the state are conducting remote learning, 29% are holding in-person classes and 43% are in blended mode, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Des Plaines School District 62, which includes elementary and middle schools, has decided to take an “adaptive pause” or return to remote learning after the Thanksgiving break because of the substantial number of Covid cases in Cook County.
The superintendent also points out a large number of staff members are in quarantine, making it difficult to hold in-person classes.
Dr. Khan said it’s more important than ever to get flu shots this year because while it’s not clear if the risk of getting the flu can make covid worse, the benefit is it can prevent heart attacks.