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CPS Chief Expects More Classrooms To Go Remote After Winter Break Amid Spiking COVID-19 Cases

CHICAGO (CBS) -- When Chicago Public Schools students return from their winter break after the new year, district officials are prepared to have some classes go remote if necessary, amid an ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases across the city.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez said he expects the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff will go up during the winter break, which began this week.

Many classrooms at CPS already have been forced to switch to remote learning due to the number of students in quarantine, and Martinez said he expects more classrooms will have to switch to remote learning after the winter break due to rising COVID numbres, especially in communities where vaccination rates are low.

"As a parent, I know how difficult that is for families, but we have to take that conservative approach, especially as cases are rising," he said. "How do you avoid that? Get your child vaccinated. By getting your child vaccinated, we will have stability in our classrooms, but short of that, we're going to have to take more conservative approaches."

Chicago is averaging 1,776 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past seven days, up 79% in the past week. The city's test positivity rate is up to 7.3%, up more than 3 points from one week ago, when the test positivity rate was 4.1%, and the highest point it's been in a year, according to Arwady. Until now, the last time the city's positivity rate was above 5% was in April.

Martinez said CPS already has sent home at least 150,000 take home tests to more than 300 schools in the city due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. He said the district is asking families to test their kids on Dec. 28, to gauge the spread of the virus after Christmas.

"We've been trying to make sure that we ensure as much as we can that we have a safe opening back after break," Martinez said.

Martinez said, by the third week of January, CPS expects to have a weekly supply of 10,000 tests for students who have been quarantined, so that they can return to class as soon as possible once they test negative for the virus.

"We're going to use these home tests as a strategy to get through the surge in the month of January, as we're quarantining more children, so they can return earlier," Martinez said.

While the district expects more classrooms to transition to remote learning after winter break, Martinez said he doesn't believe it's a viable option to move the entire district to remote learning anytime soon.

"We have no evidence that shutting down schools, whole systems, has done anything to counter the spread of the virus," he said. "What we have evidence is that, when we've done that, we've hurt children, we've hurt their mental health, we've hurt their social and emotional well-being, and we have hurt their academics in ways that we're still trying to understand today."

"Now, if the whole entire country shuts down, if the entire state and city shut down, I'm not going to put my families at risk. But short of that, I see it as we're going to be very granular, going school-by-school, classroom-by-classroom, and we will respond based on the information that we're seeing," he added.


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