As summer break approaches, Chicago will pause school-based COVID testing Friday

A woman with a face shield and masks swabs the nose of another masked woman outdoors.
Chicago Public Schools is pausing its COVID-19 testing program on June 10 — a few days before the district wraps up classes on June 14. (Michael Appleton / New York City Mayoral Photography Office)

Chicago Public Schools is pausing its COVID-19 testing program on June 10 — a few days before the district wraps up classes on June 14, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner.

The news comes as the city’s COVID transmission rate remains high, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rating system. Amid the surge in cases, health and district officials continue to urge people to wear masking indoors. Last month, one school and 21 other classrooms temporarily reinstated mask mandates in the face of several COVID-19 cases. 

Last week, 1,078 students and 467 staff tested positive between May 29 and June 4, data shows.

The district plans to bring back testing during summer school starting July 6. It will also offer COVID-19 testing for the 2022-23 school year, according to the district. 

The health commissioner announced the pause of the CPS testing program during her weekly online segment “Ask Arwady” on Tuesday.

In a statement, the district said it “has made the safety and well-being of [its] students and staff a top priority since the onset of the pandemic.”

Officials have worked to promote vaccine events telling parents and students being inoculated is the best protection against COVID-19. The district has seen vaccine uptake increase since January, but rates vary widely by school. 

“We are working with our schools with low student vaccination rates in order to facilitate outreach calls to our families and coordinate events with our community partners,” the district said in a statement.

Over the past year, Chicago Public Schools has made headway with its testing program after struggling to implement testing at every school. Officials cited staffing shortages with the district’s vendor. It also struggled to get students opted in to testing. The teachers union and some parents criticized the district saying the program should require parents to opt out rather than opt in for testing. 

In January, after a weeklong standoff with its teachers union, some teachers spent the first day back going through class rosters calling parents to get students signed up for the district’s school-based COVID testing. About 34.64% of students are currently enrolled in COVID-19 testing across the district, according to data from the city. 

Before a return to in-person learning this year, Chicago Public Schools set out to make testing a centerpiece of the district’s COVID safety strategy. In August, Interim school chief Jose Torres told WTTW the district would be testing all students and staff weekly, noting at the time: “This goes way beyond the CDC recommendation.” 

But the promise of weekly testing for all students and staff never materialized. Chicago Public Schools completed 127 tests at schools during the first week of school between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4. At the start of the school year, the district also failed to meet its deadline to implement a testing program at every school. 

The district has ramped up testing over the last few months, conducting more than 66,100 tests between March 27 and April 2. Last week, the district conducted over 58,000 tests, according to data from the district.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at mpena@chalkbeat.org.

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