Peoria's top health, education leaders urge continued school masking — regardless of court case outcome
Regardless of what the courts determine, Peoria's top health and education administrators are encouraging students, teachers and staff to continue masking in schools.
A multi-plaintiff motion to block Illinois schools from requiring face masks and excluding students and staff from school buildings if they've been exposed to COVID-19 is being considered by a judge this week.
During a news briefing on Wednesday, Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Crider joined Peoria City-County Health Department administrator Monica Hendrickson in urging the public to continue masking in schools — especially if they are students, teachers or staffers.
Masking prevents the spread of COVID-19 and protects those who are unvaccinated, Hendrickson said.
Children under the age of 5 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, and as of Wednesday, just over 35% of Peoria County children ages 5-11 had been vaccinated, she said.
Aggressive masking informs quarantine policies, she said.
And when kids get sick and bring the virus home, that leads to more parents and caretakers calling in sick themselves — which may prolong staffing shortages permeating the workforce.
"We're able to be within three feet of each other because of masking ... we're able to not necessarily isolate or quarantine an entire classroom, because of masking," Hendrickson said. "It's an effective way to stop the spread."
Peoria Public Schools itself is not a plaintiff in the Sangamon County lawsuit, but Crider said some Peoria County parents and teachers have signed on as plaintiffs.
She called the court decision "critical" as it could "issue in changes in how we quarantine." Peoria is able to observe the CDC's five-day quarantine guidance because of "rigorous" masking, she said.
Crider said her guidance to parents, teachers and staff will be to continue masking.
"We want everyone in school, every day, and not have to use the remote learning option," she said, adding the court decision will likely be appealed — regardless of the outcome.
By the numbers
As of Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported that Tri-County residents are 56.3% fully vaccinated, with 60.7% having received at least one dose.
The region's death toll since start of pandemic stands at 1,036. Of those, two deaths — both in Tazewell County — were reported in the last 24 hours.
As of Wednesday Peoria County had 1,566 active cases of COVID-19; 57 patients were hospitalized with the virus while 1,509 were isolating at home. Peoria County's active cases were down by 66 from Tuesday.
Woodford County had 783 cases on Wednesday; five hospitalized and 778 isolating at home. Tazewell County no longer reports these figures.
Hendrickson stressed that any and all case counts are undercounts, as more and more people are taking at-home rapid tests.
How to get vaccinated, boosted, tested
Any Peoria resident over the age of 5 can receive a coronavirus vaccination through their health department. Anyone over the age of 18 who is at least six months post-full vaccination is eligible to receive a booster shot.
Thanks to new state funds, the health department is expanding its walk-in vaccination clinic hours to include weekends. Learn more here.
Illinois residents can receive free COVID-19 testing at the Peoria Civic Center parking lot from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
These are PCR tests, meaning they have the ability to detect the genome sequencing of variants.
For more information on testing and vaccinations, visit the Peoria City-County Health Department's website.
Those who need a letter stating their testing or vaccination status before returning to work or school should call 312-777-1999.
Learn more: free COVID-19 testing at Peoria Civic Center