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Chicago Public Schools Set To Roll Out New COVID-19 Testing Plan For Students, Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Public Schools are set to start new COVID-19 safety protocols Friday morning.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, CPS will be rolling out its COVID-19 testing plan on Friday for those students and staff who opted in, under which they will be able to get tested at their schools. Students must have permission from their parents to participate.

The tests are specifically to identify anyone who is positive for COVID-19, but asymptomatic.

It has been a bumpy rollout, and it also comes later than scheduled. Testing was supposed to begin on the first day of school at the end of August.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said COVID-19 rates are low in CPS schools, as she expected. So far. 1,101 students and 342 teachers and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 this school year.

Arwady said says 15,000 students have been quarantined since school started, but of those, only about 200 - or 1.4 percent - have tested positive.

"Where we start to get concerned is where we see evidence of in-school transmission, and we will see some. So you heard me say, right up top here, we've not seen to date in CPS, or actually any of our schools in Chicago since they've opened this fall, we've not seen any outbreaks; meaning five cases that have been linked in some way," Arwady said.

Starting Friday, CPS students who chose to opt in with parental permission can get tested weekly for COVID-19.

"The testing has come forward to the point where it is a very quick nose swab that is not painful," Arwady said.

The districts' new chief executive officer, Pedro Martinez, said he recognizes there have been problems to start the school year. But he said his number one priority is to get families signed up for the testing program.

"Our COVID testing, our screening, is for our asymptomatic carriers. If you're symptomatic, you should not be in school," Martinez said. "Asymptomatic is really great to catch case that again, we don't know are positive - and it allows us to catch the cases; work with the families to make sure that the families are getting the proper support for their child." (fix this)

Martinez – who has only been on the job for a couple of days - said he is also exploring options for expanding remote learning. But he said it has to be robust. He does not support having remote learning serve as a babysitter.

But it is another option that is being explored.

The Chicago Teachers Union and some CPS parents have said schools are a scary place to be right now, and have said CPS isn't doing enough to protect kids and teachers from the virus.

CTU members have said schools need more nurses, a robust vaccination plan, better contact tracing, and a solid testing plan. They claimed the district has scaled back on all of those since the start of the school year.

The union and the district have yet to agree on a COVID-19 safety plan for the current school year, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has accused CTU of stalling on negotiations, accusing union leaders of "lobbing bombs from the cheap seats" rather than coming to the bargaining table.

Arwady and Martinez acknowledged some things need to improve, in particular contact tracing.

Martinez said the district is closer to getting the CPS contact tracing department's response time down to 48 hours.

The district also plans to start reporting all COVID cases daily on its website; and not just active cases, but also cases of students who are quarantined because of a close contact with someone who tested positive.

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