School mask mandate lifted after new CDC guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommend universal indoor mask-wearing in K-12 schools and early education settings in low or medium COVID-19 Community Level areas, announcing the shift in COVID guidelines Friday, Feb. 25.

As of Thursday, March 3, McLean County is one of the 40 counties in Illinois that the CDC’s new COVID County Check tool identifies as having low levels of COVID-19 in the community.

The levels — low, medium, or high — are determined by assessing hospital bed availability, hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.

McLean County’s” low” designation, according to the new guidance, lifts the recommendation of mask-wearing in public settings and on transportation, including school buses and vans.

The CDC guidance came just three days before Illinois was set to loosen its mask requirements.

Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker announced on Feb. 9 that the state’s mask mandate would be lifted at the end of February, but masks would still be required “where federally mandated, such as on public transit,” and the change would not apply to K-12 schools.

In light of the revised CDC guidelines, Governor Pritzker later announced the Illinois school mask mandate would be lifted effective Monday, Feb. 28.

Illinois schools masking requirements had been subject to legal action prior to the CDC’s announcement, including in Unit 5.

Unit 5 implemented a mask-recommended practice on Feb. 16, following the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) vote not to extend universal masking and COVID-19 mitigations.

Although Governor Pritzker’s executive order was still in effect, JCAR’s decision limited the district’s ability to require mask-wearing.

While Unit 5 no longer enforces mask-wearing, the district continues to provide masks, offers voluntary weekly COVID screening for students and staff, and advises individuals to stay home when sick.