DOWNTOWN — Among the four new cases of coronavirus in Illinois that were announced Monday, two are relatives of a Chicago special education aide who tested positive for the virus last week. As of Monday afternoon, Illinois has 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
None of Vaughn Occupational High School’s 200-plus students have tested positive for the virus, according to Chicago public health commissioner Allison Arwady, who appeared at a press conference Monday afternoon alongside Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Pritzker and Preckwinkle announced formal state and county disaster proclamations, which they described as proactive steps that could unlock federal funds and other resources.
There is “no sign of transmission at the school,” which is closed until March. 18, Arwady said Monday.
Both of the women who contracted the virus, a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 70s, are in “good condition,” Arwady said. Neither is “employed by or associated with the school.”
The city’s top public health official did not say how many students and school employees have been tested. Some test results are pending.
In a follow-up letter Monday afternoon to families, schools chief Janice Jackson said the public health department had received questions about whether all Vaughn students and staff should be tested and not just those presenting symptoms. “It is important to understand that testing is only a useful option if someone presents with symptoms of the virus. Testing those who are not symptomatic would not provide us with reliable results.”
The aide, a woman in her 50s, works with Vaughn students, many of whom have complex disabilities and travel from across the city to receive services from 85 educators and specialists.
The aide contracted the virus on a cruise and returned to school on Feb. 25 and worked until last Wednesday. Officials announced the case Friday. Students and staff there have been asked to self-quarantine.
Chief Health Officer Kenneth Fox sent a letter to Vaughn families and staff Monday. In it he said officials had tested Vaughn students and staff who “had shown symptoms of COVID-19,” which include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. “Thankfully, as of now, there are no positive results,” he said.
Fox also said the district’s environmental cleaning of the Portage Park school would be completed Monday.
The district directed any families who need help locating medical care to reach out to the district’s Office of Student Health & Wellness at email@example.com or by calling the Healthy CPS Hotline 773-553-KIDS (5437).
The majority of Vaughn families are low-income, according to district figures. The district has provided an address for Vaughn families to email for food or economic assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-209-0025 for food-related assistance.
Cindy Ok, chair of Vaughn’s Local School Council and the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, noted Monday that she was coordinating requests for parents who didn’t have email or internet, whether that be for food, financial assistance, or thermometers.
Pritzker said Monday that state and local officials are working to “stay ahead” of the spread of the virus.
Still, he said, “It’s reasonable to feel apprehensive. I want folks to understand this is going to affect your daily lives.”
Mila Koumpilova of Chalkbeat Chicago and Alex Nitkin of the Daily Line Chicago contributed reporting.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.