More than 14,000 Chicago Public Schools students and staff are currently quarantined or isolated due to COVID-19, but the district will soon shorten the time those people need to stay home after school.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said Wednesday that his district would cut quarantine time in half, from 10 days to five days, in accordance with statewide guidelines adopted earlier this month.
“Absolutely, that will be our plan,” Martinez told a news conference. “By next week I’ll be able to give you a very clear timeline, but the short answer is absolutely we’re going to pass it. I want to make sure we do it right.
Martinez said the change cannot be implemented immediately and CPS is currently in the process of identifying other logistical steps it needs to take before it can make the change.
The Illinois State Board of Education announced it was shortening mandatory quarantine time last week to align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in December updated its guidelines to state that “People with COVID-19 should self-isolate for 5 days and if asymptomatic or their symptoms resolve.
As of Tuesday evening, 13,236 students and 1,117 adults were either in quarantine or in isolation, according to CPS data. It is the second highest one-day mark, after only nearly 16,000 children and adults were held out of schools last Friday.
The district also reported 12,381 total COVID-19 cases in its schools this school year.
Wednesday also marked a week since CPS students returned to their classrooms after a five-day break during a dispute between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union over COVID-19 safety protocols. These parties ultimately agreed to an agreement that will expand contact tracing and COVID-19 testing and provide additional K-N95 masks to students and staff.
The CPS has doubled the number of students who have consented to COVID-19 testing since last month, Martinez said, from 40,000 in December to more than 80,000 currently. And the district administered some 36,000 tests over the three school days last week.
Currently, more than 90% of CPS staff are fully vaccinated, according to Martinez. More than 53% of students aged 12 and above are also fully vaccinated, while almost 33% of students aged 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Martinez’s comments came the same day Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady announced the city was past the peak of the omicron variant surge. Chicago’s COVID-19 test positivity peaked at 19.6% on January 1, according to Arwady, but has since fallen to 12.6% on Tuesday, the lowest rate since December 28, according to data from the town.
Even during that spike, the positivity rate with CPS schools was just over 5%, Martinez said, a pattern he said the district has seen “constantly.”
“Whenever you look at our cases, no matter how high, we’re just a fraction of the city,” he said.
During the district’s standoff with CTU, city officials like Martinez and Arwady repeatedly said it was safer for students to be at school than at home. Martinez also wasn’t surprised that the CPS has seen a recent increase in COVID-19 cases, not just because of the omicron variant, but because students have been spending far more time outside of schools due to winter holidays and canceled classes.
“I think this week will be interesting,” he said, “because remember, the city peaked last week, I think if we look at the cases this week, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a downward spiral of cases because the schools are actually open.
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