CHICAGO — Officials tried to ease parents’ concerns as they prepare for children returning to Chicago Public Schools on Monday amid the latest COVID-19 surge.
The city is facing its highest-ever surge in confirmed cases, and hospitalizations and deaths have risen, especially among unvaccinated people, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Thursday.
The city has also seen a rise in the number of children being hospitalized, with about five kids being hospitalized per day with COVID-19. Only about 34 percent of kids 5-11 in Chicago have gotten a first dose of vaccine, Arwady said.
But COVID-19 continues to remain less risky for children — especially those who are vaccinated — and the biggest increase in new cases has been in people 18-39, according to city data.
At the same time, CPS is set to bring students back to classes Monday.
That plan has been criticized by some, including the Chicago Teachers Union and some parents, who fear in-person learning could put children, school workers and communities at risk for spreading COVID-19.
The CTU — which has frequently butted heads with district and city leaders over responding to the pandemic — issued a statement Thursday calling on CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to pause in-person learning for two weeks unless the district implements more safety mitigations, including requiring all students to test negative for COVID-19.
“The number of fully vaxed school educators being sickened by COVID continues to increase rapidly, and the union has also flagged concerns about safely staffing schools as educators are felled by illness in growing numbers as is being seen in the retail and airline industries,” CTU representatives said in a statement.
The CTU will also file an unfair labor practice complaint against CPS for not providing information like the rate of vaccinations of students per school, according to the union.
But Arwady and CPS CEO Pedro Martinez repeatedly said children are more at risk for getting COVID-19 when they’re home, with most cases in children coming from home while relatively few have been linked to schools.
The officials have previously pushed back against attempts to do district-wide remote learning, saying the all-virtual learning done during the start of the pandemic had detrimental effects on children’s mental and emotional wellbeing and educational progress. On Thursday, Arwady and Martinez again said they plan to stick with in-person learning.
But the district will move to remote learning in instances where there’s a significant number of cases in classrooms or schools where children are less vaccinated and communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19, Martinez said. CPS has not said what benchmarks will trigger a move to virtual learning.
The district does expect to see a significant number of cases in kids as CPS returns, Martinez said.
Before winter break, the district provided 150,000 at-home PCR tests to families of students in communities hit hard by COVID-19, recommending they test their child before they return to school. The deadline for parents to drop off those tests for processing is 5 p.m. Thursday.
“We do expect cases to be high,” Martinez said. “The children have been in the community … . Any time that our children are not in school, we actually see more cases because they’re with family, they’re at events and, frankly, they have their guard down.”
As kids return to class, the No. 1 thing people can do to protect their children in school is get them vaccinated, Arwady said. Martinez also urged parents to get their children vaccinated.
“A test doesn’t protect your child from COVID,” Martinez said. “A vaccination does.”
If a child is sick with cold- or flu-like symptoms, their parent should assume they have COVID-19, take their temperature and keep them home, Arwady said.
And parents should get their children vaccinated, and adults should be vaccinated and get a booster shot, the leaders urged.
The district is “watching” to determine what kind of absenteeism it will see as more residents — which includes teachers and other school staff members — test positive for COVID-19, Martinez said. Officials have “enhanced” substitute rates to ensure classrooms are covered if a teacher is out sick, he said.
“We’re not seeing any signs that absenteeism will be any higher than normal,” Martinez said, noting 91 percent of CPS staff are vaccinated, and that number is even higher among teachers.
• In Illinois, about 7.7 million people — or 60.49 percent of the state’s 12.7 million people — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data.
• Across the state, 46,046 vaccine doses are being administered per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.
• Illinois and Chicago have administered at least 19,176,277 vaccine doses of the 21,335,465 provided to them.
• City data shows more than 1.7 million Chicagoans — or 64.3 percent of all residents — are fully vaccinated, and 71.4 percent of all Chicagoans have gotten at least one shot.
Everyone 5 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.
COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.
• Since Wednesday, 87 Illinoisans were reported dead from COVID-19.
• At least 27,821 people have died from COVID-19 in Illinois, and another 3,196 deaths are probably related to the virus, according to the state.
• The state reported 30,386 cases since Wednesday. That brings the total number of confirmed cases in Illinois up to 2,149,548.
• Since Wednesday, 196,449 tests were reported statewide. In all, 44,469,630 tests have been reported in Illinois.
• Illinois’ seven-day case positivity rate was at 10.2 percent. The figure represents the percentage of people testing positive among recent tests. It was at 9.1 percent Wednesday.
• Illinois’ seven-day test positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that were positive, was at 14.4 percent. It was at 13.2 percent Wednesday.
• As of Wednesday night, 1,010 people with COVID-19 were in the ICU and 565 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators in Illinois.
• In Chicago, 12 deaths were reported since Wednesday. There have been at least 6,271 deaths from COVID-19 in Chicago. The city is seeing an average of 11 people dying per day, up 20 percent from a week prior.
• Chicago has had 5,986 confirmed cases reported since Wednesday. It’s had a total of 417,334 confirmed cases. An average of 3,772 confirmed cases are being reported per day, up 47 percent from the week prior.
• Testing in Chicago is down 24 percent since a week ago.
• Chicago’s positivity rate was at 16.7 percent, up from 8.6 percent the week prior.
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