CHICAGO — Officials appear to be walking back their promise to test all Chicago Public Schools students and staff for COVID-19 every week.
CPS promised this summer it would test “100 percent of CPS students and staff each week,” looking to assuage concerns from parents and faculty nervous about a return to in-person learning as the pandemic continues. But the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said Tuesday officials do not plan to do that now.
“There is not a goal anywhere in the country, it’s not the recommendation of CDC, it’s not the recommendation of the health department, to test 100 percent of students weekly,” Arwady said during a livestream where she answered questions from viewers. “That is just not a goal anywhere.”
The district has been criticized for months over its testing: Officials promised a testing program would be in place by the start of the school year, with testing available at every campus. It missed that deadline and then new ones — and has still only signed up a fraction of students for tests.
It’s not clear when the district changed its plan for testing all students and staff weekly — but on Tuesday, Arwady said that level of testing was never going to be necessary.
Arwady said officials don’t need to test all students and staff every week because the risk of COVID-19 transmission is “very low” when people are vaccinated and because officials won’t test children without a parent or guardian’s consent.
About 89 percent of CPS staff are vaccinated, and 47 percent of students 12 and older are vaccinated, according to district data. Younger kids are not yet eligible to get the shots.
The news was met with backlash from some parents and from the Chicago Teachers Union.
“We failed. We lied. But, wait, we didn’t need to do that anyway,” Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said in a tweet criticizing the district’s plan. “You cannot make this up, and we’re wondering why parents are jettisoning our school district. Incompetence. Lies. Subterfuge. Gaslighting.”
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, who was on the livestream with Arwady, said parents of about 29,000 children have consented to having their kids tested. There are about 330,000 students in CPS, according to district data.
The district doesn’t need to test every child in every school — it just needs to test a fraction to get an idea of what kind of COVID-19 risk there is at each campus, Martinez said.
“We just need enough of the sample to know our risk is very low at that school,” he said.
The district did more than 23,000 tests last week, and it’ll soon be able to do nearly 30,000 tests per week, Martinez said. He said he expects to be able to test close to 40,000 students per week by Thanksgiving.
COVID-19 cases among students remain low, Martinez said. District data shows there have been 522 reported cases among adults and 1,907 cases among students in all.
And the number of children being quarantined has fallen in recent weeks, Martinez said. There are 3,754 students and 121 staff quarantined as of Tuesday.
But critics have said those figures only appear to be low because the district is not testing enough of its students and staff.
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