Tracking COVID-19 in transmission in Chicago schools: Public health officials take data-driven approach to reopening city public schools

December 31, 2020

December 31, 2020 - Data on COVID-19 transmission among Chicago youth - particularly in the city's extensive network of Catholic schools - supports a strategy for gradual reopening of the city's public school system, according to a report in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

"Data from the nation's largest Catholic school system reveals that implementation of layered mitigation efforts can support the goal of reopening in-person education in a safe but not zero-risk environment," write Marielle Fricchione, MD, and colleagues of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). Based on this and other sources of data on in-person learning during COVID-19 surges, "Chicago believes it can safely move forward with in-person public education when the operational burden imposed by the second wave has subsided."

With good mitigation, in-school transmission risk appears lower than outside school

From the start of the pandemic, CDPH prioritized complete reporting, testing, and contact tracing of COVID-19 spread in schools and other youth settings. Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest school district in the United States, elected to start the 2020-21 school year with all-remote learning.

The city placed no limitations on reopening of private schools, as long as strict mitigation measures were followed. Schools that reopened were required to promptly report all suspected or confirmed school-related COVID-19 cases. That included the Archdiocese of Chicago schools, the largest private school system in the United States. For CDPH, the Archdiocese schools provided a valuable source of information on the risks of COVID-19 associated with in-school education.

The researchers analyzed data for the first seven weeks of the 2020-21 school year: a time of moderate to high COVID-19 incidence, representing a plateau between Chicago's first and second waves. During that time, the Archdiocese reported a total of 59 COVID-19 cases at 31 Archdiocese schools. Forty-nine cases were classified as "school-associated" by CDPH: 35 in students and 14 in staff.

Of three school-related COVID-19 clusters identified by CDPH, two were related to not following physical distancing guidelines outside of class time. "There was one cluster in which we could not rule out transmission in the classroom setting," Dr. Fricchione and coauthors write. When multiple cases occurred at a single Archdiocese school, siblings were usually involved. Transmission most often occurred at social events outside of school, such as family parties or sports events.

The estimated COVID attack rate among students at Archdiocese schools was 0.2 percent - significantly lower than the 0.4 percent rate for all Chicago children. For school staff, the estimated attack rate was 0.5 percent, compared to 0.7 percent for working-age adults in Chicago.

Based on the findings, along with the experience of other large urban school districts, Chicago Public Schools has planned a phased return to the classroom. Dr. Fricchione and coauthors write, "CDPH supports this plan as long as the [COVID-19] case doubling-time has improved, reflecting a stabilization of the local outbreaks."

Consistent with CDPH's Healthy Chicago 2025 initiative, the reopening plan acknowledges the negative impact on school closures on children - "especially of the city's most vulnerable students, not only as an essential service but as a way to improve health equity for students during a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted Latinx and Black residents," according to the authors. Also reflecting equity concerns, the plan calls for pre-K and special education students to be the first to return to the classroom.

The researchers emphasize the importance of consistent mitigation strategies in achieving low COVID-19 transmission rates in Archdiocese schools. Dr. Fricchione and coauthors write, "Frequent and clear communication at multiple levels--between the school system leadership and its schools, between the schools and their staff and families, and between the school system and the local public health department--was likely a key factor in ensuring mitigation measures were properly implemented."
Click here to read "Data-Driven Reopening of Urban Public Education through Chicago's Tracking of COVID-19 School Transmission."

DOI: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001334

About Journal of Public Health Management and Practice

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice publishes articles which focus on evidence-based public health practice and research. The journal is a bi-monthly peer-reviewed publication guided by a multidisciplinary editorial board of administrators, practitioners, and scientists. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice publishes in a wide range of population health topics including research to practice; emergency preparedness; bioterrorism; infectious disease surveillance; environmental health; community health assessment; chronic disease prevention and health promotion; and academic-practice linkages.

About Wolters Kluwer

Wolters Kluwer (WKL) is a global leader in professional information, software solutions, and services for the clinicians, nurses, accountants, lawyers, and tax, finance, audit, risk, compliance, and regulatory sectors. We help our customers make critical decisions every day by providing expert solutions that combine deep domain knowledge with advanced technology and services.

Wolters Kluwer reported 2019 annual revenues of €4.6 billion. The group serves customers in over 180 countries, maintains operations in over 40 countries, and employs approximately 19,000 people worldwide. The company is headquartered in Alphen aan den Rijn, the Netherlands.

Wolters Kluwer provides trusted clinical technology and evidence-based solutions that engage clinicians, patients, researchers and students with advanced clinical decision support, learning and research and clinical intelligence. For more information about our solutions, visit and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter @WKHealth.

For more information, visit, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Wolters Kluwer Health

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to