With summer now in session, school districts across Oak Park and River Forest have sent some reminders to families about checking for symptoms of COVID-19, following quarantine and isolation guidelines and reporting positive cases to local public health departments. School nurses usually do not work during the summer, and SHIELD Illinois COVID tests, which were offered at various schools including ones in Oak Park and River Forest, are not available in the next few months.
Last week, school officials at Oak Park District 97 told families that district nurses, who count and keep track of cases throughout the school year, will not be in the building until school resumes in August. Families with students who attend the district and test positive for COVID over the summer should report cases to the Oak Park Department of Public Health, the June 7 email said. Families are advised to email the Oak Park public health department with the following information: name, age, zip code and date of the positive test.
Amanda Siegfried, communications director at D97, explained why reporting cases looks different during the school year than over the summer. During the school year, the buildings are packed with hundreds of staff and students, and officials are required by the state to monitor and report positive cases to the local health department to determine community transmission levels. School buildings are closed during the summer with the exception of reopening only for limited summer programs, which bring in some staff and students but are not comparable to a regular school day during the year. In addition, Siegfried said the district does not have the same nursing staff available as it does during the school year. Over the summer, there is at least one nurse on site because of the summer programs.
“[Our schools are] not really open in the same way during the summer. We still have all the COVID mitigations in place, of course, but we’re not reporting out because we don’t have a high number of students that are actually participating,” Siegfried said. For those enrolled in summer programs at D97, she said, district staff will inform families and students if someone tests positive and others are exposed to the novel coronavirus.
Samantha Martini, infection control officer at D90, and Karin Sullivan, communications director at D200, echoed Siegfried. Families whose children are participating in District 90’s summer programs and test positive should tell district employees, Martini said. The district will then report those cases to the Cook County Department of Public Health.
As far as testing goes, Martini and Sullivan shared a few options families have, including purchasing their own at-home test kits at pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS Health, Walmart or Target. Those stores also offer free COVID tests by appointment. Families can also receive free at-home antigen test kits from the federal government by visiting special.usps.com/testkits. Martini said District 90 also has a supply of at-home antigen tests for families in need.
At this point, school officials have yet to discuss any additional plans for their COVID-19 safety measures in the fall. As schools fully reopened this past year, district administrators have pivoted, following the guidelines of federal, state and local public health officials as they stiffened and later eased.
Sullivan said District 200 officials aim to “keep our eyes on the situation” as the summer months come. Any revisions to the district’s COVID mitigations will depend on what takes place this summer and talked about closer to August, she said.
As of June 9, the Oak Park public health officials have reported a total of 193 new cases, and the community transmission levels have shifted from medium to high, with 354 cases per 100,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises communities with high transmission levels to wear masks indoors among other recommendations. Masking requirements have been lifted in Illinois since the spring.
“I don’t know what the situation will be in the fall. At this point, it’s masking if people want to and keeping an eye out for symptoms, getting tested if a student or an employee has symptoms. That’s sort of the plan for the summer,” Sullivan said.
“We’ve come to the phase,” she said, “where we’re learning to live with COVID as best as we can.”
The Oak Park Department of Public Health is hosting a vaccination clinic from 4 to 7 p.m. June 21 at Cheney Mansion, 220 N. Euclid Ave. The clinic is open to individuals age 5 and older. Advance registration is required and can be made online at events.juvare.com/IL-IDPH/dxxwg.
For more resources, including finding transportation to a COVID appointment, visit the Oak Park Department of Public Health at https://www.oak-park.us/village-services/department-public-health or the Cook County Department of Public Health at https://cookcountypublichealth.org/communicable-diseases/covid-symptoms/.