How Illinois Is Relaxing COVID Testing Requirements For Unvaccinated Staff

There is no doubt that the pandemic has caused significant disruption throughout the world. It has also caused us to take more extraordinary precautions in many ways once taken for granted. For example, how often do you see a sanitizing dispenser without using it on your hands? The protocols put in place by local and regional health authorities during the pandemic’s peak have had several lasting effects. One such move placed restrictions on unvaccinated individuals. Those who worked with the public found themselves dealing with strict guidelines, and many were not permitted to go to work until they got vaccinated.

Illinois Lightens The Restrictions On Teachers

With increasing numbers of Illinois residents vaccinated, officials have recently chosen to change one policy. The requirement was that all unvaccinated school and childcare staff be tested weekly for COVID infections. During the 2021/22 school year, unvaccinated staff must participate in weekly testing until they can prove they were fully vaccinated. Although that was the statewide directive, some school districts, including Chicago Public Schools, had fewer COVID-19 guidelines for students and staff.

The Move Matches A Federal Policy Change

The new testing policy in Illinois matches the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that went into effect across the country in August. Part of the policy change is a recommendation from the CDC that schools implement testing when there is a recognized risk factor that could contribute to the spread of the virus. According to Governor J. B. Pritzker, “Vaccination continues to be the most effective tool we have against COVID-19.” Why the change in policy now and not when it was first released? Pritzker explains that since millions of residents in the state have gotten the vaccinations, “they have given us the ability to adjust these requirements.”

State Policy Change Receives Support

The change in weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated school and childcare staff has the support of many officials and teachers in the school system. This approval includes Carmen Ayala, the state school superintendent, and the presidents of Illinois’s two most prominent teachers’ unions, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association.

A Look At The Numbers

The 2022/23 school year is the first one in the state where COVID-19 vaccinations have been available to children between 6 months and 18 years. The offer has shown significant numbers in collected vaccination data. Up to September 14, the most recent date of data collection, a total of 9 percent, or roughly 62,300, children under five years of age had received their first vaccine in Illinois. That is a jump from the 5.6 percent who had their first vaccine by late July. Unfortunately, no numbers on how many children under five are fully vaccinated.

As for other age groups, 30.8 percent of children 5 to 11 years received complete vaccination, and 42.2 percent of students aged 12 to 17. It is interesting to note that young children who receive the Moderna vaccine must take two doses four weeks apart. However, three doses are required over 11 weeks if they receive the Pfizer vaccine. According to the Chicago Health Department, Chicago leads the state in vaccination rates, with 73 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds, 49.1 percent of 5 to 11-year-olds, and 4.4 percent of children five and younger fully vaccinated (as of September 12). In addition, the state leads the Midwest in school vaccination rates. No other state in the region is close to the percentage of fully vaccinated 5 to 17-year-olds in Illinois.

The Purpose of School Testing

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the point behind school testing is logical. The testing procedure gives families, communities, and schools proof that schools and childcare centers can remain open and be safe for students to attend. The IDPH says that when an infection can be detected early, containing it is much easier, and testing helps keep the transmission of the virus low and manageable. The primary goal is to keep schools safe for students to participate in all learning environments. 

Student Testing Continues In Places

Although the policy change at the state level no longer requires weekly COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated school or childcare staff, several school districts have kept testing in place as an option for students to participate in if they choose. The state health department took a leading role in the testing process by providing schools early in the school year with over one million free rapid COVID tests. In addition, 160 school districts in the state have chosen to participate in the University of Illinois SHIELD testing program. The program permits school districts to regularly test students at no cost to the school district they attend. Reports show that 50,000 administered tests since the current school year began. 


The SHIELD Program uses an innovative saliva-based COVID-19 test, making it a more straightforward test to administer. The test does not restrict K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. In addition, the program has expanded to include companies and residents across the state. The system uses a series of collection centers and labs that dot the state so that participants can utilize the program even if they do not live in a metropolitan center.

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Final Thoughts

The relaxation of COVID testing requirements for unvaccinated school and childcare staff has been good news for the school districts and the childcare industry. The issue of staffing has been a problem for many years in the childcare industry. The weekly testing process added to that makes retention of good staff challenging to maintain. However, the shift in policy now makes it somewhat easier for staffing. In addition, with the increasing number of young children vaccinated, many parents will see that the process is making childcare services safer for everyone, but most importantly for young students.

—Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool