Little more than three weeks remain of Chicago Public Schools’ fall quarter, but CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday would not say when they will let everyone know if schools will reopen for the winter.
“We know that parents are anxious to hear from us on this, and we’ve committed to making an announcement very soon,” Jackson said during an unrelated news conference at City Hall. “We know that the second quarter is approaching quickly and we want to be sure that the plan that we put out will be as thoughtful as our parents anticipate.”
When a reporter pressed for specifics, asking, “This week?” Lightfoot simply said, “Soon.” Fall quarter ends Nov. 5.
The state has established some guidelines, but the final decision to reopen schools has been left up to individual districts.
* Chalkbeat Chicago interviewed Justin Lombardo, the Chicago Archdiocese’s “point person on reopening schools”…
CB: The Chicago Teachers Union has said it wants to see a strict protocol for contact tracing if schools should reopen to students. The archdiocese did institute a contact tracing protocol. How does it work?
JL: We have a team made up of people that have experience in doing interviewing and investigative work, as well as two nurses. We also trace within our parishes because we believe it’s part of our responsibility as a large organization. It begins with a report coming in to our central team, which reacts by immediately contacting the principal to get more details. Is it a positive case? Is it an exposure to a positive case? Or is it a presumptive positive (a case when a patient tests positive by a public health laboratory, but results have not been confirmed by the CDC)? Each of those we triage, and we take care of the positive cases first. We immediately gather data about the individual, and we quarantine the cohort. We have a standard procedure for notifying the families of students that are in a quarantined cohort, about what to do and where to go. We, of course, maintain privacy, and we never identify the individual.
I would say the overwhelming numbers of positive cases we get in our schools come from familial contacts of transmissions or transmissions in group settings outside of the school. We have many cases where the family or the parents or older siblings went to a party where social distancing was not observed, where masking was not done. We’ve had situations where there are sport leagues for students that are not run by the archdiocese or by our schools, where the precautions may not have been taken as completely as they should have been.
And so we’re really comprehensive. And that’s led to really very, very good outcomes for us. So in all cases in Chicago, where we’ve had a case reported in one of our cohorts, there’s only been one situation where a second case was reported within the 14 days of the infection time. Now, we have 40,000-some students and 5,000 staff in our schools, and in the city of Chicago alone, we have 91 schools with a population of 19,000 students, plus another 2,700 staff. That’s pretty good.
CB: Are you able to share how many cases you have had across your schools, and how many times your students have had to quarantine as a result?
JL: I don’t have the exact number, but I can tell you that our positivity rate, which is a key rate, is less than 1%. That is a very, very fine showing.
* There are competing claims about the dangers involved. From The Atlantic…
Texas reported 1,490 cases among students for the week ending on September 27, with 1,080,317 students estimated at school—a rate of about 0.14 percent. The staff rate was lower, about 0.10 percent.
These numbers are not zero, which for some people means the numbers are not good enough. But zero was never a realistic expectation. We know that children can get COVID-19, even if they do tend to have less serious cases. Even if there were no spread in schools, we’d see some cases, because students and teachers can contract the disease off campus. But the numbers are small—smaller than what many had forecasted.
Predictions about school openings hurting the broader community seem to have been overblown as well. In places such as Florida, preliminary data haven’t shown big community spikes as a result of school openings. Rates in Georgia have continued to decline over the past month. And although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, I’ve read many stories about outbreaks at universities, and vanishingly few about outbreaks at the K–12 level.
One might argue, again, that any risk is too great, and that schools must be completely safe before local governments move to reopen them. But this approach ignores the enormous costs to children from closed schools. The spring interruption of schooling already resulted in learning losses; Alec MacGillis’s haunting piece in The New Yorker and ProPublica highlights the plight of one child unable to attend school in one location, but it’s a marker for more. The children affected by school closures are disproportionately low-income students of color. Schools are already unequal; the unequal closures make them more so. Virtual school is available, but attendance levels are not up to par. Pediatricians have linked remote schooling to toxic stress.
A study of more than a half-million people in India who were exposed to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 suggests that the virus’ continued spread is driven by only a small percentage of those who become infected.
Furthermore, children and young adults were found to be potentially much more important to transmitting the virus — especially within households — than previous studies have identified, according to a paper by researchers from the United States and India published Sept. 30 in the journal Science.
Researchers from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley, worked with public health officials in the southeast Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to track the infection pathways and mortality rate of 575,071 individuals who were exposed to 84,965 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. It is the largest contact tracing study — which is the process of identifying people who came into contact with an infected person — conducted in the world for any disease. […]
The researchers found that the chances of a person with coronavirus, regardless of their age, passing it on to a close contact ranged from 2.6% in the community to 9% in the household. The researchers found that children and young adults — who made up one-third of COVID cases — were especially key to transmitting the virus in the studied populations.
“Kids are very efficient transmitters in this setting, which is something that hasn’t been firmly established in previous studies,” Laxminarayan said. “We found that reported cases and deaths have been more concentrated in younger cohorts than we expected based on observations in higher-income countries.”
Children and young adults were much more likely to contract coronavirus from people their own age, the study found. Across all age groups, people had a greater chance of catching the coronavirus from someone their own age. The overall probability of catching coronavirus ranged from 4.7% for low-risk contacts up to 10.7% for high-risk contacts.
* Chicago teacher dies from coronavirus after trips to school, family claims
* CPS students petition to shorten the class day — and end homework — during remote learning, citing headaches, stress and too much screen time