CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago's top doctor and Chicago Public Schools leaders on Thursday sought to reassure parents they are doing all they can to keep students and staff safe from COVID-19 while in school.
"I want to reassure you that the procedures/protocols CPS has put in place are working," Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said at a City Hall press conference. "I feel very strongly for how worried people are right now."
Arwady and CPS said they are strengthening their response to COVID-19, outlining new safety measures on Thursday.
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 CPS Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez said schools are safe, but 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.
So far this school year, 1,101 students and 342 teachers and staff at CPS have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district's virus tracker.
Arwady said around 15,000 students have been quarantined since school started a month ago, but of those 15,000 only about 200 – or 1.4% – later tested positive for COVID-19.
"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.
The district also will start weekly screening testing at all schools on Friday. Those tests are specifically to identify anyone who is positive for COVID-19, but asymptomatic.
So far, though, the district said only one in 1,000 of those screenings are coming back positive.
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