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About a dozen students, staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at Winnetka and Wilmette schools since start of school year

Tuesday, October 06, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Karen Ann Cullotta

More than a dozen students and staff members at public schools in Winnetka and Wilmette have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the new school year, district officials said Tuesday.

At New Trier High School, where 25% of the students returned to the classroom Tuesday for the first day of in-person learning, as of Oct. 2, a total of three students have tested positive for COVID-19, spokeswoman Niki Dizon said in an email statement.

“Our COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated twice a week, includes the number of positive COVID cases for students and staff along with the numbers of students and staff quarantined — either for close contact with a case as defined by health officials or negative and seeking an alternative diagnosis for one of the symptoms of COVID-19,” Dizon said.

Officials also notify parents, students and staff of positive cases, “if they are considered close contacts by the Cook County Department of Public Health,” Dizon said.

Dizon said officials at the high school “do not do all-school notifications aside from the chart on the COVID dashboard. That way we protect student/staff privacy while still being transparent and allowing for contact tracing.”

In addition, officials have alerted parents, “that they should expect quarantines throughout the year as we all work to protect student and staff health and safety and adhere to strict public health guidelines,” Dizon said.

At Wilmette School District 39, officials said since the start of the new school year, there have been three students and three staff members with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the district, said District 39 spokeswoman Stacey Finkel, in an email statement Tuesday.

“D39's focus has been and remains the health and safety of all staff and students,” Finkel said. "The district has been communicating with the families of those who came in close contact with either students or staff who have tested positive for COVID, as well as the entire school.”

In a Monday email, officials released the latest metrics for the region.

“Our D39 Metrics Dashboard this week continues to reflect favorable metrics overall. Everyone’s continued hard work and diligence in practicing healthy habits and effective implementation of school protocol continue to prove beneficial," it reads. "Thank you for your ongoing support for healthy habits and the important work of our schools.”

At Winnetka School District 36, there have been four COVID-19 cases — two students and two staff members — in the district since the start of the 2020-2021 school year, District 36 spokeswoman Kate Hughes said in a Tuesday statement.

None of the cases were connected to school transmissions, Hughes said.

“If there is a positive COVID-19 student or staff case in The Winnetka Public Schools, we follow our protocol with the Cook County Health Department and send letters immediately to those directly impacted,” Hughes said. “We also follow up with school and District communications to all District families and staff.”

The district also posts weekly metrics updates to the district’s website, which reports cases by school and if the case was student or staff related, Hughes said.

Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala said in a Tuesday statement that school districts have requested “guidance for communicating with students, staff, and families in the event that someone in the school contracts COVID-19.”

“First and foremost, schools must provide relevant information to their local departments of public health to support their efforts in contact tracing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” Ayala said. “Secondly, school authorities are to handle contacts of infectious disease according to the Control of Communicable Disease Code, which includes informing contacts of infected individuals to prevent the spread of disease.”

The state board of education and the Illinois Department of Public Health have provided a template that schools can use as well as answers to related questions.

“We continue to encourage close partnerships between school districts and local departments of public health," Ayala said.

The IDPH is publishing county metrics that include numbers of youth cases, including an adaptive pause and metrics document to guide local departments of public health in advising local school districts about when additional mitigation measures may be necessary, Ayala added.

kcullotta@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kcullotta



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