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Rock Island-Milan schools start Monday amid rising Covid cases

Elementary students will be required to wear masks while it will be optional for middle and high school students.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill — The Rock Island County Health Department said Wednesday that the week-over-week increase in Covid-19 cases was 125% in the county. It's currently at the Moderate Transmission level and has reported 127 positive cases for the month of July through the 27th, with more than 94 being reported since July 15. 

With the school year just around the corner, county health officials are concerned schools could become hot zones. 

"There are a lot of students 12 and under that haven't had the opportunity to be vaccinated yet, and then there are certainly people that are in the age group to be vaccinated that haven't yet or haven't been fully vaccinated yet," said Nita Ludwig, administrator of the Rock Island County Health Department. "Make no mistake, with more indoor activities the virus will spread quickly."

The CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) are now recommending masks be worn indoors, even for vaccinated people. For schools, the new guidelines call for all staff, students and visitors to wear masks full-time. 

This rise in cases comes as the Rock Island-Milan School District prepares to begin classes on Aug. 2. District Superintendent Dr. Reginald Lawrence said as of now, they are sticking with the original plan for masks to be required for elementary students and optional for middle and high school students, but strongly encouraged for those who are unvaccinated. 

"Our goal is to stay in school, keep our doors open five days a week," Lawrence said. 

The schools will be following the same increased handwashing and cleaning procedures, and social distancing guidelines as last year. The district is also in the process of using federal money to upgrade its ventilation systems to help circulate clean air in the buildings. 

Lawrence said if cases continue to rise, they do have a plan in place and are prepared to make changes, using what they learned over the last school year.

"There's definitely a sense of ease, knowing that we went through it for the last year and a half," he said. "But you can never be certain you know how things if they're going to get worse."

He added that they're going to focus on what they can control. 

"We're going to continue to follow the data," Lawrence said. "We're going to continue to review what's going on in our buildings, and if we have any of those cases, we will deal with them accordingly."

The district is also strongly recommending everyone over the age of 12 get vaccinated, as well as those under 12 when they become eligible for vaccination under the federal government’s Emergency Use Authorization. Rock Island schools will continue to offer vaccine clinics in the fall for students and families. 

"We're going to continue to promote and push it because we know that vaccinations are right now the number one way of helping us lower that spread," Lawrence said. "We would hope that when that time comes, that we will have a majority of our families, if not all of them, take the vaccination so that they can keep themselves safe and keep others safe." 

At the QC COVID-19 Coalition call on Wednesday, July 28 with the Scott and Rock Island County Health Departments, Amy Thoreson, director of the Scott County Health Department, encouraged parents to have a conversation with their kids about either getting vaccinated or wearing a mask to school. 

"I know those are extremely difficult decisions," Thoreson said. "Everybody wants a school year that looks much different than it did last year, but we really don't want to have a school year that looks worse than last year."

Rock Island-Milan plans to offer in-person learning for the full school day each week. Lawrence said a virtual option will remain for students who have to quarantine.