About a month ago, Chicago health officials were optimistic the city could start its school year with a hybrid learning plan, but now, the district has announced it will start entirely remote in the fall, marking a sharp shift for parents and students.
The reason behind the change in plans, officials said, was Chicago's climbing case rate, in addition to feedback from parents and teachers.
As of Wednesday, the city reported a rolling average of 277 new coronavirus cases per day.
One month earlier, that number was consistently below 200, according to Chicago's top public health official Dr. Allison Arwady.
"The fact that over the last four to five weeks we've added between 80 and 100 cases and not seen signs of that turning around makes us concerned," Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Wednesday. "As we're planning ahead for a complicated school district like CPS, we need to make these decisions a month in advance. And if we've added 80 to 100 new cases over the last month, without seeing turnaround, we very easily could add that many or more in the month ahead. Similarly, our test positivity rate today is at 4.8%. Less than a month ago, we were at 3.8%. A full percentage point lower. We've not seen progress in that respect either."
If Chicago had stayed close to or below that 200 daily case threshold, Arwady said the city likely would have continued with its hybrid plan. Experts had previously said an average of 400 cases per day could mean rollbacks across the city.
"Regularly, we are having days with more than 300 cases," Arwady said. "And particularly in the last two weeks, we've had a number of individual days already pushing 400 cases. And so where we're thinking about planning, needing to give a month of time, I think it is entirely possible that we would be at or very near that 400 case mark. We don't want to be switching decisions in the last few days before making major decisions that impact so many people."
The district is one of multiple major school districts in the Chicago area planning to start the year fully remote - though several others have announced hybrid plans.
CPS' first day of school is scheduled for Sept. 8. The district said instruction will remain entirely remote through the first quarter, and at that time, district officials will determine if it's safe to employ a hybrid model in the second quarter, which begins on Nov. 9.
CPS said the district would release its plan in full, with specific details on instruction and requirements, in the coming days.
But it's not just Chicago seeing increases in cases - the entire state is also reporting a rise.
Health officials in Illinois reported more than 1,700 new cases of coronavirus Wednesday, along with 30 additional deaths attributed to the virus.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the 1,759 new cases bring the total number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began to 186,471.
Wednesday's 30 additional fatalities bring the state’s death toll to 7,573, according to IDPH.
"This virus is not tired, it's trying to gain momentum," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a press conference later Wednesday.
According to Arwady, much of the recent spread of the coronavirus in Chicago has been through social gatherings.
"Where we are seeing COVID spread in Chicago is in households and in social gatherings," she said Tuesday.
Arwady noted that early on in the pandemic, transmission was driven largely by congregate settings like long-term care facilities, factory-style workplaces and other areas that have since implemented new protocols and regulations to slow the spread of the virus.
But as those outbreaks have slowed, the virus has spread more rapidly in social settings that the city is unable to regulate, she said.
Arwady reiterated that claim Wednesday when she said the city could consider limiting the sizes of social gatherings permitted in the city should cases continue to rise.
Arwady implored residents to continue to follow public health guidelines and limit close contact - at times even within the home.