CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools students are set to return to class Wednesday — and there’s no vaccine mandate in the works for now, the city’s top doctor said.
The district reached a deal Monday night with the Chicago Teachers Union that would see in-person learning return Wednesday. The union’s rank-and-file members need to approve it Tuesday, but, under the deal, teachers will be able to encourage parents to sign their children up for COVID-19 testing, and CPS and the CTU have agreed on metrics for when a classroom or school should switch to remote learning.
Health department Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, speaking to alderpeople at a Committee on Health and Human Relations hearing several hours before the deal was announced, said her agency was in “very strong” agreement with CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot on avoiding a whole-district move to virtual learning.
Arwady said it’s an “answered question” in the public health community that school settings do not “significantly increased” the chance of COVID-19 transmission. She’s previously said children are more likely to get COVID-19 when at home than when in school.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) — who said her Southeast Side community is “on fire” with COVID-19 cases — and others asked why CPS has not required children going to school to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially when the city is requiring many businesses to check patrons for proof of vaccination.
“This bugs the crap out of me, like we have to show a vaccine card to get into a bar or restaurant, a gym … blah, blah, blah. Why in the heck can’t we show a vaccine card? Why can’t we test to reenter our school?” Sadlowski Garza said.
The CTU had also called on the district to at least require children to provide a negative COVID-19 test before they return to in-person learning.
Arwady said district and city officials don’t want to impose those rules because they want to ensure children can go to school.
“The reason why we’ve got that vaccination requirement in place in bars, restaurants, gyms and entertainment settings that are serving food and drink is because those are high-risk settings for spread,” Arwady said. “These are high-risk settings by definition. They are also optional settings.”
But, like grocery stores, schools are essential, Arwady said.
“Like you have to be able to get food, I also think you actually have the right to be able to get an education, regardless of what your parents have or haven’t done,” she said.
Arwady said she also would like more of the district’s school nurses to participate in COVID-19 mitigation efforts, like testing and vaccinations. She said 60 of the hundreds of CPS nurses have participated in such efforts.
“… All over the country, you are right that school nurses in most places have really led the charge in terms of what does that outreach look like to parent, etc.,” Arwady said. “The school nurses at CPS, they are CTU members, and they have broadly not been as involved as I would like them to be.
“I’m really hopeful that we will be in a much better place … where we will see more of the amazing school nurses and other people who regularly work on health being part of COVID-19 mitigations in those schools. Whether that’s working with testing, but especially the vaccination work.”
After the hearing, the CTU tweeted “perhaps picking a fight with nurses in the middle of the pandemic isn’t the best strategy for a physician,” and union Vice President Stacey Davis Gates labeled Arwady’s comment “lies.”
A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about Arwady’s comment.
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