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Unvaccinated Illinois school staff won’t have to test for COVID

Unvaccinated school and child care staff in Illinois are no longer required to test for COVID infections weekly — a policy change officials have attributed to an increase in vaccinations.

The move comes as more and more young children in the state are being vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Vaccination continues to be the most effective tool we have against COVID-19,” Governor JB Pritzker said Thursday evening in a press release, “I am proud that millions of Illinoisans have benefited from these life-saving vaccines – they have given us the ability to adjust these requirements.

During the past school year, school employees who were not vaccinated had to get tested at least once a week until they could prove they were fully vaccinated. Some local school districts, including Chicago Public Schools, began this school year with fewer COVID-19 restrictions for school employees and students.

New state testing policy aligns with federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tips from augst, which no longer requires routine testing in schools or daycares, regardless of vaccination status. However, the CDC recommends schools consider testing at times of high risk for the spread of COVID-19 in the community, such as returning from winter vacation or after large indoor events.

This is the first school year where all children from 6 months to 18 years old can be vaccinated against COVID-19. Current state data shows that childhood immunization rates are slowly increasing.

As of Sept. 14, 9% of Illinois children under age 5 — or about 62,300 children — had received their first dose of the vaccine. This is 3.4% more than at the end of July, when 39,000 – or 5.6% – had received a first dose.

The state Department of Public Health has not yet released the number of children under age 5 fully vaccinated. Young children who receive the Moderna vaccine must take two doses four weeks apart, while the Pfizer vaccine requires three doses over 11 weeks.

As of Wednesday, 30.8% of Illinois children between the ages of 5 and 11 had been fully immunized, out of a population of more than 1.1 million. Among students between the ages of 12 and 17, 42.2% were fully vaccinated, out of a population of 1 million.

State Superintendent Carmen Ayala and the presidents of the two largest teachers’ unions in the state — the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association — support changing the requirements of the state for school employees as staff and students get vaccinated against COVID-19.

As with adults, children 12 and older can also receive boosters developed by Pfizer BioNTech. These new bivalent vaccines protect against the omicron variants, currently the most common.

Chicago children are more vaccinated than the rest of the state in all age groups. In the city, 73% of 12- to 17-year-olds, 49.1% of 5- to 11-year-olds and 4.4% of children under 5 had completed the vaccine series by September 12, according to the Chicago health department.

Although the state no longer requires unvaccinated staff to be tested weekly for COVID-19, many districts continue to offer opt-in testing for students.

The state health department said it made 1 million free rapid COVID tests available to schools earlier this year and 160 school districts have opted into the University system’s SHIELD testing program. of Illinois – which allows districts to routinely test students at no cost to the district. So far, nearly 50,000 tests have been administered since the start of this school year.

The state health department said it was working with local health departments to continue vaccinating children.

Samantha Smylie is the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering state school districts, legislation, special education, and the state Board of Education. Contact Samantha at [email protected].

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