Oak Park-River Forest High School in Oak Park

Almost two weeks into the new school year, Oak Park and River Forest High School has reported two COVID-19 outbreaks, thrusting several staff and students into quarantine.

The first was reported Aug. 24 and involved three employees, said Karin Sullivan, a spokesperson for OPRF. Thirty-five students and employees were identified as close contacts and required to quarantine. Two students and an additional employee also tested positive for COVID in the same week, but those cases were not part of the outbreak, Sullivan said.

According to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard, a total of 87 students and five employees were placed under quarantine during the week of Aug. 20-26. Sullivan said the total reflects the number of individuals who were named close contacts as well as additional positive cases unrelated to the outbreak. She clarified that people in quarantine are not positive for COVID-19. “They’re just out on quarantine.”

The second outbreak was reported Aug. 31, almost a week later, and involved five students — close contacts are still being investigated, Sullivan said. More information on the second outbreak will be made available through the dashboard on Sept. 3. The dashboard is updated by 4 p.m. every Friday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has defined an outbreak as “two cases that are linked epidemiologically with respect to [a] person, place and time.” That means, the two cases “have shared close contacts” and occurred in the same location within 14 calendar days of each other, the IDPH stated on its website. The criteria for COVID-19 outbreaks previously involved five or more cases but have since changed, Sullivan said.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recently updated its definition of a close contact for schools. Students are no longer considered close contacts if they have stayed 3-6 feet away from the student with COVID – and if they and the student with COVID are both masked “correctly and consistently,” the CDC stated. The exception does not apply to staff, teachers, and other adults. The CDC has also stated that people who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine.

OPRF is among 26 schools in Illinois to report an outbreak since fully reopening, according to data released Aug. 27 from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Aside from OPRF, three other Cook County schools, including Maine East High School, Reavis High School and Glenbrook Elementary, have also reported outbreaks tied to students.

Sullivan said while the word “outbreak” can be scary, it is important to keep in mind that OPRF’s total confirmed COVID-19 cases are still low.

“We understand why the news of any outbreak is very concerning to our families,” she said. “We want people to keep in mind though that our positive cases overall remain low, and we are being diligent about following up on positive cases, as well as contact-tracing with anyone who has to go into quarantine to make sure that we stop any transmission that’s happening within the school, and we will continue to be vigilant about our tracing to minimize any spread.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Maine West High School reported an outbreak after reopening. Maine East High is among four schools in Cook County that recently reported an outbreak. Wednesday Journal regrets the error.

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