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IDPH to educators: Masks are safer for students than face shields

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., wears a face shield June 4 before a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing about the COVID-19 response on Capitol Hill in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., wears a face shield June 4 before a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing about the COVID-19 response on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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The Illinois State Board of Education has decided that, absent a medical or other restriction, masks, rather than face shields, will be required to be used by students and staff.

It bases its decision on the determination by the Illinois Department of Public Health that masks are more effective than face shields in protecting against COVID-19.

"Face shields have not been deemed effective for source control and are only to be used when other methods of protection are not available or appropriate," the state board of education said Tuesday in a letter to educators.

Per IDPH guidelines, in addition to face coverings, students also must maintain a 6-foot social distance when in class or other indoor areas – "whenever and wherever possible."

In situations where students need "facial visualization for instruction and communication" – for example, when students are learning a new language and need to see the teacher's mouth form the words – the IDPH is recommending the use of video instruction, which also will promote social distancing.

If video is instruction is unavailable, "face shields may be used with the understanding that they have not been deemed effective for source control. As such, heightened attention and adherence to 6-foot social distancing is critical for individuals using face shields," the IDPH said.

The ISBE also is recommending that schools get a physician’s note, documenting the medical reasons students older than 2 cannot wear a mask

“None of these requirements are meant to be punitive,” said Jackie Matthews, director of communications for the state board. “They are intended to protect the health and safety of students, staff and their families.”

Homemade masks are allowable, although they must fit snugly around the nose and mouth, Matthews said, adding that information on making a proper mask can be found on the IDPH website, www.dph.illinois.gov.

In addition, the state is providing a free reusable cloth mask to every student and teacher, she said.

IDPH made the decision to forego shields in favor of masks after discussing the issue with its communicable disease team, infection preventionists, and infectious disease specialists and after reviewing guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ISBE is updating the FAQs portion of its website,isbe.net, to reflect the determination.

"In this rapidly evolving crisis, we are committed to ensuring that Illinois schools operate under the most current information, guided by science and data," Trisha Olson, ISBE's legal officer, said in the letter.

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