Up to 20 case managers from Chicago Public Schools who visited a school where a teacher’s aide has tested positive for the coronavirus were told this weekend to self-quarantine until March 18 and get tested if they have symptoms.
The development comes as CPS on Saturday called on all students and staff who were at Vaughn Occupational High School from Feb. 25 to March 6 to stay home through mid-March. The request also applies to anyone who visited the school during that period.
Vaughn will be closed through March 18. The district has no plans at the moment to close other schools.
CPS confirmed Sunday that case managers from the city’s 20 North and Northwest Side high schools were scheduled to attend a meeting last week at Vaughn, a special education school serving 212 students in the Portage Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side. The case managers were at Vaughn during the time the teacher’s aide with coronavirus was also there.
The case managers at the meeting were to include people from Lane Tech College Prep and Taft, two of the district’s biggest high schools. It is unclear if all of the case managers attended the meeting, and CPS officials refused to identify which case managers were there.
As of Sunday, there were no new cases of COVID-19 connected to the teacher’s aide. The Chicago Department of Public Health said some students from Vaughn were in the process of being tested for the virus. They did not have an exact number.
The teacher’s aide is the sixth person in Illinois to test positive for COVID-19. But CPS tried to quell fears that the case would cause a domino effect and spread throughout the district. CPS officials said health officials tell them the risk to the case managers, the students and staff in their schools is low.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said Sunday that the advice for people to stay home is taking a conservative approach. She noted that the virus is not spread through the air, but through close person-to-person contact.
“In this case, because Vaughn is a school that serves a number of students with special needs and a number of children who are medically fragile, and because the special education aides move around a lot through the school and interact with a lot of students, we wanted… to be protective,” she said.
CPS said the request for self-quarantine does not apply to anyone who was not at Vaughn between Feb. 25 and March 6, "even if they have been in contact with someone at Vaughn." This applies to parents, spouses, siblings and students who rode the bus with Vaughn students.
Still, many families of students at Vaughn say they are staying in their homes until the risk passes. State Rep. Lindsey Lapointe (D-Chicago) is helping coordinate efforts to get families supplies if they are under self-quarantine. Local School Council president Cindy Fah-Ok also has started a gofundme page.
CPS officials said they are worried about Vaughn being stigmatized after parents whose students ride the bus with Vaughn students voiced fears on social media. Vaughn serves students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities.
Also, the Chicago Department of Public Health has reached out to the families of Vaughn students to say it wants to be in close contact with them. The department will contact them twice a day and will be available to test any student who shows symptoms of COVID-19.
The news that the teacher’s aide had tested positive for the virus came Friday evening.
The patient, in her 50s, was on a Grand Princess cruise ship where more than 20 passengers have tested positive for the coronavirus. The woman disembarked on February 21 and returned to work at Vaughn a week later.
The woman then developed symptoms, was hospitalized and is currently in stable condition.
The school district plans to do a thorough cleaning of Vaughn and its buses. CPS also plans to clean high traffic areas in all schools, and to distribute additional cleaning wipes and hand sanitizers starting Monday.
CPS officials have said that they do not want to close schools unless it is absolutely necessary. They point out that closing schools is extremely disruptive.
However, they have told schools to cancel any international trips. Many schools take students on trips during Spring Break, which starts on April 6.