With Chicago Public Schools' back-to-school start date just over a week away, summer break for students and teachers is coming to a close. And now that COVID vaccinations are approved for children 6 months and older, guidelines and policies have shifted for the upcoming school year, with officials stressing the importance of vaccine protection over masking.
But as the classroom inches closer, the city remains at what the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention classifies as a "high" community transmission of the virus.
"Only about 9% of Chicagoans under five have gotten that first dose," Chicago Public Health Department commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a Facebook Live update Tuesday.
"I will tell you I'm not real pleased about that as we head into school. We think about the young kids, and it hasn't been for lack of opportunity. So I know Chicago Public Schools is working to grow this. But you know, I just don't want your kids to get sick."
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CPS CEO Pedro Martinez echoed that sentiment, saying "There is no better protection than vaccination. One of our goals for the new school year is having our children be learning safely in our classrooms. The best way to accomplish that for families is through vaccinations."
However, vaccines will not be mandated for the 2022-2023, and neither will masks -- with Arwady stressing that as COVID continues to evolve, so too will guidelines around the virus.
“CPS and all schools around Chicago have been doing a lot of preparation for the upcoming school year, and there are a huge amount of resources that have gone into this at CPS,” Arwady said. “COVID continues to change, and it’s important that the protocols continue to evolve as we learn more."
Here's a breakdown of what the current CPS COVID guidelines are for the upcoming school year.
Under this year’s protocols, students aren't required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, although the district still “strongly encourages” eligible individuals to do so. A vaccination requirement remains in place for CPS staff.
“Close Contact” and "Test-to-Stay" Procedures
According to officials, there will be changes to the district’s “close contact” protocols, including a step away from the “test-to-stay” program that the district had previously used. Both of these procedures are used when COVID cases are detected in a classroom.
Officials say that just 1.5% of people deemed to be “close contacts” of COVID patients ended up testing positive for the virus themselves, leading to the changes.
Unvaccinated individuals will have the following three options when they are deemed to be a “close contact” of a COVID case:
- Submit proof of full vaccination
- Learn/work from home for a period of five days, and then wear a mask in school for days 6-10
- Participate in "Test-to-Stay" protocols
Under those "Test-to-Stay" protocols, students and faculty must:
- Obtain two rapid tests from their school
- Test negative on the Monday and Thursday after exposure, submit results to CPS
- Remain symptom-free throughout the following days
- Wear a mask and refrain from participating in sports and extracurricular activities for 10 days after exposure
According to CPS, masking will not be required in most situations, but is still “strongly recommended.” Masks will be available to those who request them, according to officials.
In certain instances, however, masking will be required:
- Students and staff who are returning from isolation after a positive COVID test will be required to wear a mask until they have passed 10 days since the onset of their symptoms
- Individuals who are identified as “close contacts” of COVID patients will have to mask for 10 days following their exposure, regardless of their vaccination status
- If there are three or more cases of COVID within a single classroom, students and faculty will be required to wear a mask for at least 10 days after the last positive result is reported
Contact Tracing Changes
In elementary schools, contact tracing will be done at the classroom level. That means if one individual tests positive for the virus, every other individual in the classroom will automatically be deemed “close contacts” and will be notified of the test result.
Those individuals would then be required to wear a ma/lisk for up to 10 days after the exposure.
In high schools, contact tracing will be done at an individual level. The response will vary depending on whether or not the student or staff member is vaccinated against COVID.
Vaccinated students and faculty who are deemed “close contacts” will be allowed to remain in school as long as they wear a mask for 10 days after their exposure.
Unvaccinated students and staff will be required to work or study from home for five days, and then to wear a mask for days 6-through-10, unless they opt to participate in “Test-to-Stay” protocols.
Weekly Testing and More:
- Air filters have been replaced in all CPS schools
- CPS will thoroughly clean and disinfect all schools prior to the school year
According to Martinez, CPS will offer four permanent vaccination clinics at across the city, along with a traveling mobile clinics.
Weekly testing will not be required. Students and faculty who wish to enroll in weekly COVID testing must do so prior to the school year with new consent forms. Here's where to find those. Unvaccinated students and faculty are encouraged, but not required, to enroll. Testing will begin on Aug. 29, with at-home tests offered the week of Aug. 22.