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COVID-19 cluster developing at CPS school, forcing 8 into quarantine in 1st week back, officials say

A second staff member at McCutcheon Elementary has tested positive for the coronavirus days after a colleague tested positive Friday, CPS says.

John T. McCutcheon Elementary School at 4865 N. Sheridan Rd. in Uptown on the North Side, Thursday, Jan 14, 2021.
John T. McCutcheon Elementary School at 4865 N. Sheridan Rd. in Uptown on the North Side, Thursday, Jan 14, 2021.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times, Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A cluster of COVID-19 cases at an Uptown elementary school has forced eight people, including the principal and assistant principal, into quarantine during the first week that students are back in classrooms since March, Chicago Public Schools officials said Wednesday.

A second staff member at McCutcheon Elementary has tested positive for the coronavirus after a colleague tested positive Friday, the district said. The school’s two cases were confirmed well within a 14-day period and “could potentially be related,” meeting the criteria for a cluster, officials said.

A CPS spokeswoman said in a statement that while the district “cannot rule out the possibility that these cases were acquired in the community, outside of school,” officials also “cannot rule out the possibility of in-school transmission.” That acknowledgment is notable because this appears to be the first case district-wide that CPS representatives are suggesting may have been transmitted in a school.

The development of a cluster so early in the school system’s reopening efforts marks troubling signs for concerned teachers and staff, and for CPS officials who have been fighting for weeks to prove that their schools are safe. Preschool and some special education staff returned to schools last week, followed by their students this week. Thousands more teachers are expected back in two weeks and as many as 71,000 additional children could return to schools Feb. 1.

The second McCutcheon staff member to come down with the virus tested positive Tuesday, officials said. A contact tracer interviewed the worker and confirmed the case Wednesday, at which point two more close contacts were notified and told to quarantine, CPS said.

The employee who tested positive this week was considered one of six close contacts of last week’s case — because they spent at least 15 minutes within six feet of each other — and was last in the school Friday. Neither staff member who tested positive was in the building when students returned. The school remains open.

Teachers at the school said this week that they were disturbed to only find out about the first case two days after it was reported to the district. Though no exposed employees are suspected to have been in classrooms with students, the workers would have preferred to find out sooner so they could have sought testing and protected their families, they said.