Chicago Public Schools

As Omicron Spreads Across Midwest, Chicago Teachers Concerned Over Rising COVID Cases in Classrooms

The omicron COVID variant has been confirmed in 16 states, but Illinois is not currently one of them.

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As the highly transmissible omicron COVID-19 variant has now been confirmed found in 16 states across the country, and health experts saying saying it will likely be detected in the city "within a number of days," Chicago teachers are on are on high alert regarding the virus, and the Chicago Teachers Union is planning to address concerns in a Monday press conference.

Last week, Chicago Public Schools said just fewer than half of CPS students aged 12 were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 despite becoming eligible last spring.

And only 12.6 percent of students 5-11 have received at least one shot, meaning meaning far fewer students in that age group are fully vaccinated.

In August, Chicago Public Schools announced it would require COVID vaccinations for all employees. Currently, more than 90% of the district's staff have completed their vaccine series. CPS is still working on scaling up its voluntary testing program, CEO Pedro Martinez said.

At Carnegie Elementary in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood, COVID cases have quickly climbed with 17 cases in two weeks, a statement from the Chicago Teachers Union said, with "including breakthrough cases that have sickened fully vaccinated staff."

"School has seen over half of classes quarantined and breakthrough COVID, including one vaccinated worker who died four days after testing positive, as classrooms struggle with cleaning issues, lack of adequate ventilation, more," the statement continued.

Carnegie Elementary is overwhelmingly Black and about 75 percent low-income.

Last week in the suburbs, Oak Park River Forest High canceled all school clubs, activities and sports due to COVID-19 concerns on campus. The district said it has seen a steady rise in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks, recording a nearly 30% increase.

The move led some parents and students to protest.

What Chicago health officials are saying about the omicron variant

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a press conference Sunday that omicron is likely already in the city, and should be officially detected in coming days.

"We have not yet detected the omicron variant here in Chicago or here in Illinois," Arwady said. "But I do expect that to happen likely within a number of days. There are multiple examples of case investigation going on right now, where we know that there are people who have been exposed to the omicron variant, that we are doing aggressive case investigation, testing and contact tracing on."

Based on the latest data, Arwady said omicron appears to be twice as contagious the delta COVID variant, which is already causing a surge throughout Chicago and much of the Midwest.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Arwady on Sunday, encouraging residents to receive both the coronavirus vaccine and the booster shot.

"We're down to the dwindling days of this long, hard year, but we won't be able to put this pandemic behind us if we do not step up as a city everywhere, everyone and get vaccinated and get boasted," Lightfoot said. We're concerned about omicron."

Where in the US has the omicron variant been detected?

So far, the omicron COVID variant has been confirmed in 16 US states, including four in the Midwest: Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Thursday, Dec. 2, the first Midwest case of the omicron COVID variant was confirmed in Minnesota, via a specimen from a resident "with recent travel history to New York City."

According to health officials, the person developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 and was tested for COVID on Nov. 24. He reported traveling to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention from Nov. 19-21 at the Javits Center.

Friday, Dec. 3, a St. Louis resident with recent domestic travel history was presumed positive for omicron, the Missouri state health department said Friday.

The Missouri state health department did not provide information on the individual's age, vaccination history or symptoms.

Friday, Dec. 3, Nebraska officials confirmed six infections after a traveler returned from Nigeria and apparently infected five members of their household.

The individual returned from Nigeria on Nov. 23 and became symptomatic on Nov. 24, according to a press release from the Public Health Solutions District Health Department.

Saturday, Dec. 4, the omicron coronavirus variant was confirmed in Wisconsin in a man with "recent travel history to South Africa," the state's health department said.

Wisconsin health officials said he was fully vaccinated against the virus and received a booster shot. He reported mild symptoms and has not required hospitalization.

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