CPS to shorten quarantine period as pediatric vaccine nears 

With no discernible increase in the daily number of COVID-19 cases among children since schools reopen, Chicago will reduce quarantine rules for unvaccinated students from 14 to 10 days starting Saturday, said Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago’s decision to revise quarantine rules comes as a pediatric vaccine nears federal approval and cities like New York and Philadelphia repeal quarantine rules in an effort to deliver on the promises of personalized learning for most children.

“We hear that families are concerned about schools that are not safe,” said Martinez, explaining the change at a news conference on Tuesday. “We also hear the other side, where parents say, ‘My child has been quarantined. What do I need to do to get my child back to school?’”

Officials said the change comes as a timeline for a pediatric vaccine comes into play. The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said Tuesday morning that the latest forecast for pediatric vaccine availability in Chicago is the first week of November. Timelines may shift, but she said she’s optimistic that kids ages 5-11 will be eligible soon.

Currently, only children 12 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, which has complicated return-to-school plans and quarantine rules.

Chicago currently requires unvaccinated students to quarantine for 14 days after known exposure to a close contact, such as a teacher or classmate. Within the first few days of students returning for personal learning this fall, quarantine notices began to go out. District and health department officials said a relatively small percentage of students have been quarantined overall — on Sept. 25, that number was 15,000, or about 4%, officials said last week — and they’ve pointed to an even smaller percentage. of those students tested positive for COVID.

Other situations can trigger quarantines, such as traveling to a state on Chicago’s travel advice list.

School districts across the country are faced with the tricky question of when students should be quarantined and for how long. Some parents have said Chicago’s 14-day approach was overly cautious, even though it’s in line with guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend a 7- to 14-day quarantine for students, depending on what others say. COVID-19 prevention and detection strategies are in place.

For example, the CDC recommends a 7-day quarantine for unvaccinated students in districts with “adequate and available” diagnostic testing services. The Chicago Public Schools test rollout has so far been criticized for test rollout delays and low opt-in rates.

Asked about the volume of testing on Tuesday, Arwady said the size of Chicago Public Schools makes it challenging to ramp up testing and emphasized that federal guidelines recommend testing about 10% of unvaccinated students weekly, not every student. “There is no set goal for everyone to do every week. The goal is to get to the point where we’ve done screening tests. ”

The percentage of families that have applied so far is remarkably low – on Tuesday there were only 20,617 students, or about 6% of the enrolments, registered for the on-campus testing program. And despite officials’ pledges that every campus would begin offering tests starting last week, Martinez said on Tuesday that Chicago is still in advance mode and facing logistical hurdles with staff from its Massachusetts-based supplier Thermo Fisher.

District data shows that between September 26 and October 2, 11,524 tests were taken — double the number from the previous week, but a fraction in a district of 340,000 students. (According to that weekly data, less than 1% of the tests came back positive and 3.4% were declared invalid.)

Martinez said Tuesday the district was on track to conduct 20,000 tests this week.

The city’s teachers’ union has repeatedly pointed to logistical delays in testing rollouts and an insufficient supply of contact tracers as evidence that the district and city need to do more to keep children and educators safe.

The deaths of two mothers at a local primary school — deaths family members said were due to COVID — prompted the union to demand stricter security measures. In the case of Jensen Elementary, where the mothers died, 11 of the school’s 17 classrooms were in quarantine, a situation that union officials say should have led to a temporary campus closure.

Union officials said late last week they would consider taking more direct action if they can’t reach a safety deal with Chicago Public Schools about reopening. The union’s House of Representatives will meet on Wednesday.

Parents have had mixed reactions to the quarantine messages.

Nancy Griffin, a member of the Chicago Parent Collective, said the school district still needs quarantine rules, but it needs to shorten the quarantine period and change the definition of “close contact” from a student within a meter of another. in the same classroom in someone sharing a small group table or lunch table. “CPS’s stance remains too cautious, leaving children more days out of school than other schools in Chicago, again putting CPS students at a disadvantage compared to other schools in Chicago and other schools in Illinois,” she said recently.

Others have called on the city to ramp up remote learning opportunities so that quarantined students have a sort of virtual experience. Currently, only students quarantined by the school district are allowed access to virtual classrooms. Those traveling out of state or self-isolating due to off-school exposures have no guarantee of distance learning.

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