Since schools closed to students in March, at least 258 Chicago Public Schools and charter school employees or vendors have tested positive for COVID-19, and eight have died, according to the district.
The number, through Sept. 9, includes both staff working remotely and those who the district has been requiring to report to work at school buildings. While CPS officials did not clarify how many of those cases involved employees who had been working in-person, they said 123 of the cases were “actionable,” requiring an intervention such as a “pause in operations” at a school.
CPS did not provide a breakdown of cases by school or date or type of employee.,The district employs 37,775 people but that does not include vendors.
Calling the number of cases “relatively small,” CPS stated it has worked with public health officials on contact tracing and notifying close contacts of positive cases.
CPS attributed most of the cases to exposure in the community or household members who also tested positive. Less than 13% of all cases — 33 of the 258 — have been tied to a cluster, in which multiple cases were identified at a school within a period of 14 days, according to CPS.
“Based on the district’s investigations, we believe transmission is unlikely to have occurred in the workplace in the vast majority of known cases,” according to CPS, which added the district has mitigated the spread of COVID-19 within school buildings.
“The district has been working closely with city leaders and health officials to monitor the progression of the virus and implement stringent health protocols at all operational sites, including mask requirements, health screening, and immediate action upon learning of COVID-positive cases,” spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement.
“While workplace transmission is unlikely to have occurred in the vast majority of cases known to the district, we know the virus is still causing harm to so many of Chicago’s communities and our thoughts remain with all members of the CPS community who have been impacted by this virus," she said.
The Chicago Teachers Union said the district has not told them which schools have been affected by COVID-19 or how many known cases were among those working in buildings.
“We know that bringing more people into school buildings while this pandemic continues to rage will contribute to higher numbers of illness and death,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a news release. “Yet CPS continues to refuse to bargain on guarantees of safety protocols. At the same time, CPS is forcing workers like school clerks — who are overwhelmingly Black and Brown women who hail from the same West and South Side neighborhoods being pummeled disproportionately by COVID-19 — back into their buildings when they could do their work remotely. That’s not just stupid. That’s dangerous — and tragically, has already been deadly for some workers.”
The teachers union filed an unfair labor practice charge last month, saying the district didn’t bargain in good faith before sending school clerks and other employees back into buildings.
Last week, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board decided that CPS could keep requiring school clerks to work in person for now, but board members wanted to hear more directly from school employees before making a final ruling. That charge is to be heard before an administrative judge, and an arbitration trial is going on this week.
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