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Arwady: No breaks in protocol at CPS school where mom died after daughter exposed to COVID

Chicago’s top doctor asked for patience Tuesday while city officials investigate the death of mom Shenitha Curry, but parents want CPS to close Jensen elementary school.

Family, students, teachers and staff prepare for a balloon release outside Jens Jensen Public School during a press conference about COVID cases at the school Tuesday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Chicago’s top doctor asked for patience Tuesday while city officials investigate the death of a Chicago Public Schools mother whose daughter had been exposed to COVID-19 at her elementary school.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner at the Chicago Department of Public Health, said her staff found no breaks in protocols at Jensen Elementary on the West Side, where Shenitha “Angel” Curry’s daughter attends 5th grade.

Curry, who was unvaccinated and had underlying medical conditions, passed away Thursday after a battle with COVID-19, her family said. Curry’s daughter was one of 205 students — more than half the student body at Jensen — directed to quarantine this month because of exposure to eight confirmed virus cases.

Shenitha Curry, 47, who passed away from COVID-19 last week, according to family. | Provided
Shenitha Curry, 47, who passed away from COVID-19 last week, according to family. | Provided

Before she died, Curry criticized CPS’ COVID-19 protocols in a Facebook post, and her sister said this week that Curry was sure her illness stemmed from the school.

CPS and the CDPH invited reporters to a media conference Tuesday to discuss the case, at the start of which Arwady said “my main goal here is to make it clear that there are a lot of things about this situation that are still under investigation.

“There are a lot of statements being made that we have not been able to verify at this time,” Arwady said.

“I would ask, please, as members of the media, to not be reporting things that are not proven facts. Because I think we’re seeing a lot of misinformation, frankly.”

Arwady said she recognized the worries surrounding the situation at Jensen and “would just ask for some caution while we finish this investigation.” She said a formal report would be released with CDPH’s findings, but so far “we do not have evidence of any large-scale outbreak at this school.”

Curry died Sept. 23, 10 days into her daughter’s 14-day quarantine period.

CPS’ online COVID-19 dashboard lists the first cases at Jensen being reported the week of Sept. 12. But Dr. Allie Sontag, a nurse practitioner in CPS’ health and wellness office, said on the call Tuesday that Sept. 3 was the first date an infectious person was in the building.

CPS and CDPH officials did not respond to follow-up requests for a detailed timeline of when each of the eight cases were identified, and when the subsequent quarantine notices were sent out to families.

Asked about a complaint from Curry’s sister that the family was never reached by a contact tracing team, Arwady said families whose children have been identified as close contacts of a confirmed case should not expect a phone call interview from a contact tracer. In school settings, those exposures are easily determined based on class lists and other information from the administration, making all those phone calls unnecessary, Arwady said. If someone who was exposed develops symptoms or tests positive, the onus is on parents to let the school know, she said.

“It is tragic when we hear about these stories,” Arwady said. “And when I think about risk, the biggest risk here regardless of what the investigation shows is if there are people who are age-eligible for vaccine and not yet vaccinated.

“I think there’s a lot of desire when we see these really tragic outcomes to try to pin blame. And I would be remiss if I did not say that the blame here is on the virus, at the end of the day.”

The Chicago Teachers Union and Jensen’s Local School Council hosted a news conference outside the building Tuesday to call for the school to be closed for two weeks.

“I’m a concerned mother, not only for my baby but for all of our babies,” said Chanella Bland, chair of Jensen’s Local School Council.

“We’ve got to do better. And I definitely, definitely demand that CPS shuts down Jensen academy as of right now.”

A group of students listen as Jasyma Johnson, sister of Shenitha Curry, speaks to reporters during a rally outside Jens Jensen Public School, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times