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Health officials explain the difference between a potential exposure and an outbreak of cases in schools

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 8:43 PM CDT
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WINNEBAGO & OGLE COUNTIES, Ill. (WIFR) - COVID-19 cases in schools are on the rise and so is confusion about potential exposures and outbreaks.

“We’ve got 300 plus kids back ready to go,” Meridian School District Superintendent PJ Caposey said.

Highland Elementary School is back in session after Caposey says there were 11 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, 10 presumed positives, and 60 kids out of school with symptoms this fall.

“At the same time that Highland had a spike in numbers, we also had a handful of cases at the high school,” Caposey said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health website says the cause of the outbreak at Highland was time in the classroom, it’s why the school reached outbreak status.

“The health department thought it was in the best interest of the health and safety of our kids to want to go into adaptive pause,” Caposey said. “We heeded the recommendation and moved into the pause.”

Highland has had two different outbreaks this school year among the five throughout Ogle County, while 13 schools fall on the potential exposure list.

“We certainly don’t want children to be exposed, we don’t want them to be sick,” Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Dr. Sandra Martell said.

In Winnebago County, a staggering 66 schools are on the potential exposure list, but only 2 have an outbreak, Martell says there is a big difference.

“When we talk about an outbreak those are two or more cases that are epidemiologically linked meaning they are connected in time and space,” Martell said.

Martell compares exposure to walking past someone in the supermarket who tests positive, she says it’s not an outbreak, but it is a risk.

“We ask students or children of a certain age (where they were) well most children are going to indicate school,” Martell said.

The two schools on the outbreak list in Winnebago County are Hononegah High School and the Durand Pecatonica co-op. Both schools have 5-10 cases and the source on the IDPH list is sports.

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