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8 CPS workers dead, another 250 COVID-positive since start of pandemic

Of those cases, 123 have been deemed “actionable,” meaning operations at a school were paused because the infected person had been in or around the building.

Chicago Department of Public Health workers set up a tent outside Vaughn Occupational High School for conducting health test amid coronavirus fears, Tuesday morning, March 10, 2020.
Chicago Department of Public Health workers set up a tent outside Vaughn Occupational High School for conducting health tests after a worker there tested positive for COVID-19 in March.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Eight Chicago Public Schools workers have died of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and another 250 have tested positive, with about half of those cases leading to a pause in operations at their schools.

The latest figures released by the school system this week are about triple the total number of cases reported by the beginning of May, a month and a half after schools shut down, when two workers had died among 85 total confirmed cases.

In all, CPS officials said they now know of 258 staffers, service vendors or charter school employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 between March and Sept. 9. Those include workers who are at home as well as ones who are reporting to work in person.

Of those cases, 123 have been deemed “actionable,” meaning operations at the school were paused because the infected person had been in or around the building.

Another 33 cases are believed to have been part of a cluster in which more than one possibly related cases were found at a school within a two-week period, CPS said, with 21 of those cases coming in the spring.

CPS resumed full-time remote learning earlier this month after a rise in cases and testing positivity in Chicago forced officials to scrap a plan for a part-time return to classrooms. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the district are holding out hope that in-person schooling can resume at the end of the first quarter in November.

CPS did not identify which of its workers died from the disease, which schools or buildings they worked at, or when the deaths took place. Nor did the district say which school communities have had other positive cases.

The district in some cases has sent notices to parents and staff at individual schools after an infection is found. Just this week, a letter was sent to Lincoln Park High School families informing them of a COVID-positive staffer who was working in the building. All athletics events and other programs scheduled to take place at the school were postponed, and “no staff, students or other members of our school community will be allowed to enter the building under any circumstances until further notice,” the letter read. The school is undergoing a deep clean.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said the district’s contact tracing program in conjunction with city health officials has found the “vast majority” of CPS workers have been exposed either due to community or household spread. That has led CPS to believe that “workplace transmission is unlikely to have occurred” in most cases.

“The district, in collaboration with public health officials, has been able to effectively mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within school buildings when a case has been identified,” Bolton said.

The Chicago Teachers Union lambasted CPS in a statement Wednesday, saying the district won’t tell the union which school communities have been most impacted by the virus or how many of the workers who have contracted the disease are among those who have been required to return to school buildings this fall.

The union, which called the latest figures “chilling,” has filed grievances and labor complaints against CPS for requiring some workers such as school clerks and tech coordinators to return to buildings for the entirety of the first quarter, which ends Nov. 6.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board last week denied the CTU’s request for injunctive relief, which would have immediately allowed those workers to stay home. That case and a separate arbitration are proceeding this week.

Contributing: Michael O’Brien