Updated at 8:37 p.m. Saturday
Chicago Public Schools on Saturday asked students and staff at a special education school to self-quarantine through March 18 after a teacher assistant tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The assistant worked in the classroom at Vaughn Occupational High School on the Northwest Side.
“People who have been at Vaughn since Tuesday, February 25 are being asked to stay home unless seeking medical care or given other direction,” CPS said in a notice to families and staff at the school.
CPS said the request applies to all students, staff and service providers. The statement said these people should not leave their homes through March 18.
CPS said the request does not apply to anyone who was not at Vaughn between February 25 and March 6, “even if they have been in contact with someone at Vaughn.” The district said those individuals can go to work and school “as long as they are not sick.”
CPS said this applies to:
- Family, care providers and people who share a household with Vaughn students, staff, and service providers.
- Students, faculty and staff at other schools or anyone who may have come into contact with members of the Vaughn community.
- Students who rode a bus with Vaughn students.
Vaughn will be closed next week. CPS will contact people who were potentially exposed to the virus. The school district has no plans to close other schools.
Vaughn serves 212 students with “mild to moderate cognitive disabilities,” according to CPS’s website. Nearly 75% of the students are low-income.
“As a parent myself, I understand how unnerving this information might be for many of Chicago’s residents,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday night as officials announced that the woman is Illinois’ sixth coronavirus case.
The patient, in her 50s, disembarked on Feb 21 from a Grand Princess cruise ship that has been linked to the virus. She returned home a few days later and is currently hospitalized in “stable” condition.
On March 4, the cruise ship announced that there had been initial virus cases associated with the ship, said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. The woman had returned to work at the school for a week after the cruise.
“Despite this case, I want to remind everyone that the risk to the general public still remains low,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
The president of Vaughn’s Local School Council, Cindy Fah-Ok, said she got a robocall about the teacher assistant Friday afternoon, about a half hour before the mayor and governor told the general public.
She said she started making calls and texting, and posting the news on social media. Fah-Ok has been a parent at the school for years, and knows most families, she said. She thought she might have a better chance of reaching families than the school system, especially because many ignore the “annoying” CPS robocalls.
“I am encouraging everybody to do frequent hand washing and to stay away from going outside to prevent the spread of this virus,” she said.
Fah-OK said her next task is to make sure families have provisions if they have to stay home. She’s hoping someone from CPS will help her coordinate delivering food and other necessities.
The mayor’s office did release instructions that childcare programs, K-12 schools and colleges and universities should review their emergency operation plans, including strategies for social distancing and on-line learning, and that schools should consider postponing or cancelling student foreign exchange programs.
COVID-19, a deadly new member of the coronavirus family that’s closely related to SARS and MERS, was first detected in Chicago in January.
The first Illinois case was confirmed on Jan. 24. The Chicago woman was in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, prior to getting sick.
Since then, officials throughout the state have been attempting to contain the virus, while acknowledging the growing difficulty as it spreads around the globe.
“We know that viruses fly. They can come from wherever they are to new locations,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said earlier Friday. “They don’t have to stop at customs.”
The virus has infected more than 100,000 people in 90 countries, killing 3,400.
The 100,000 figure of global infections is largely symbolic, but dwarfs other major outbreaks in recent decades, such as SARS, MERS and Ebola. The virus is still much less widespread than annual flu epidemics, which result in up to 5 million annual severe cases around the world and from 290,000 to 650,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization.
The epidemic’s economic impact has snowballed, with world stocks and the price of oil dropping sharply again Friday.
But the news isn’t all bad: More than half of those who contracted the virus have now recovered. It’s retreating in China, where it first emerged, and in nearby South Korea — though the virus has continued popping up in new places, with countries like Colombia and Togo reporting their first confirmed cases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.