Something as simple as girls and boys blowing bubbles (pictured here at Queen of the Universe School in 2018) may return to local Catholic schools this spring, as Archdiocesan officials have relaxed mask mandates in the wake of COVID-19 numbers showing a sharp decline. --Supplied photo

Something as simple as girls and boys blowing bubbles (pictured here at Queen of the Universe School in 2018) may return to local Catholic schools this spring, as Archdiocesan officials have relaxed mask mandates in the wake of COVID-19 numbers showing a sharp decline. --Supplied photo

Catholic kids ditch school masks

Public schools stick with pandemic regs

By Tim Hadac

Reports of local Catholic school children rejoicing over the lifting of mask mandates were widespread this week, while their parents reacted with a mix of opinions.

“I’ve seen kids jubilant over this—some so much so that they appeared to be crying tears of joy,” said Garfield Ridge resident Sarah Pernetski, whose niece attends a local Catholic school. “The teachers seem to be trying to keep a lid on their enthusiasm, reminding the kids that COVID is still with us.”

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Something as simple as girls and boys blowing bubbles (pictured here at Queen of the Universe School in 2018) may return to local Catholic schools this spring, as Archdiocesan officials have relaxed mask mandates in the wake of COVID-19 numbers showing a sharp decline. –Supplied photo

Maria Delgado-Ramirez said, “Kids are kids, and I think they’re just sick of two years of masks. They want to see each other laugh and smile. That’s important to their mental health.”

Anna Trusty said her son “told me last night that his school might be ending their mask mandate soon and make it optional.

He made it very clear he will not wear his mask [if they are optional].”

Sara Sachen, a Southwest Side mother of four CPS students and an LSC member, addressed the Chicago Board of Education directly when she said,”[Recently], all CPS parents received an email explaining that children still need to be masked in schools because of:

  • ‘anxiety in communities’;
  • CPS claims schools aren’t a part of the city and not a part of the city’s low COVID-19 numbers;
  • The vague opinion that ‘schools are different public places than grocery stores, bars and restaurants’;
  • Parents need more time to get their kids vaccinated, which is something we need to move on from because it’s a personal choice; and
  • CPS has to ‘work with their labor partners.’

“Of course, that means the Chicago Teachers Union, who tweeted and emailed a veiled threat to parents that according to their contract, they are guaranteed children be masked until August of 2022! My children’s due process is not a part of their bargaining agreement.

“Parents have been given no science-based reasons for their children to still be wearing masks,” Sachen concluded. “I believe this is political theater to appease the CTU, and it dangerously sends the message that schools aren’t safe. Catholic schools have gone mask optional in the same area as public. Anyone who is still precautious can definitely choose to wear a mask. But, no longer will I allow my children’s right to a free and appropriate (mask-free) education, and their mental health be damaged by baseless mask mandates.”

Kyle McMenamin said he’s concerned about “relaxing these mandates too early. If lifting these [mask] orders results in a new surge of [COVID-19] cases, then the masks have to go back on…and then what effect would that have on the kids?”

“Not so fast” seemed to be the order of the day in Chicago Public Schools, where leaders released this statement:

“Chicago Public Schools will keep in place all proven COVID-19 safety mitigation measures, including requiring universal masking by all staff and students. Thanks to these key safety measures, CPS has been able to preserve in-person teaching and learning and provide a safe environment for students and staff.

“We have made great progress in recent weeks against this virus, and we do not want to jeopardize that progress by moving too quickly. We look forward to the day when we can be mask-optional at CPS, but we still need to get more students vaccinated across our District, and we still need to work with our public health and labor partners on the best way to preserve a safe in-person learning environment for all.”

That position was supported by Chicago Teachers Union leadership and its allies, including a group called Active Chicago Parents.

ACP issued a statement earlier tis week that asserted in part, that mask mandates should not be relaxed until “more teachers and staff are hired with the $2.6 billion in COVID-19 funds CPS has so every student, teacher and staff can be safely social distanced 6 feet apart.

“The indoor air ventilation and filtration systems in all school buildings must be repaired and updated to prevent person to person COVID-19 transmission. All CPS students and staff must be tested, given N95 or KF94 masks weekly and offered vaccines in their own schools.

“There are also still multiple issues with cleanliness related to the contract with Aramark, and families are upset that this contractor has failed to keep schools clean and provide sanitary conditions for children.

“Recent polls suggest that mask mandates continue to be favored by the majority of Americans, and especially the majority of parents with school-aged children,” the ACP statement continued. “We as community members know that masks are important for protecting one another and protecting the most vulnerable among us, including children under 5 who aren’t eligible for vaccinations yet, and immunocompromised and other high-risk individuals. Instead of focusing on the urgency of normal, CPS should follow the guidelines from the “Urgency of Equity” report to ensure that the needs of the black and brown communities in Chicago hit the hardest by COVID-19 are addressed first.”

‘Following the science’

The reactions came in response to last week’s announcement by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D., that the City would remove the mask and vaccine requirements for certain public spaces on Feb. 28 to align with the State of Illinois’ previously announced plans to lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on that day.

“Based on key data, it looks as if the worst of the Omicron surge is behind us and we will be able to safely remove these emergency measures instituted to protect the health and safety of our residents,” Lightfoot said. “I want to thank Chicagoans and in particular, our business community for adhering to these measures and helping us pass through this difficult time while keeping restaurants and other businesses open.”

The key metrics of the City has been used to track COVID-19 cases and hospital capacity since early in the pandemic including COVID-19 cases diagnosed per day, test positivity, and hospital and ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. As of Feb. 21, the 7-day-rolling-average test positivity (now 1.5% in Chicago), hospital COVID-19 census, and ICU COVID-19 census have all reached the pre-defined “lower” risk category, meaning they have been in an acceptable lower risk range for the last week. COVID-19 lab-confirmed cases (now 283 cases per day in Chicago) remain just above the historic “lower” risk range – but this is offset by the much higher testing and very low-test positivity. By Feb. 28, assuming declines continue in the 7-day rolling average, the city will have been in the lower risk range for two weeks and able to lift these restrictions.

“Since COVID-19 arrived in Chicago, we have been guided by the data when making decisions about necessary steps to protect people and keep from overwhelming our healthcare system,” Arwady said. “This doesn’t mean COVID is gone. It simply means transmission levels are lower than they have been during surges. I still encourage people to take precautions and definitely get vaccinated to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

The vaccine requirement for restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor public settings where food and beverages are served went into effect on Jan. 3 in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases both locally and nationally, driven in part by the Omicron variant. More Chicagoans were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the Omicron surge than at any prior point in the pandemic and the great majority of these hospitalizations were in unvaccinated Chicagoans.

Masks will continue to be required in health care settings, on public transit and in some other congregate settings.

As the City transitions its mitigation measures to remove the mask requirement, many Chicagoans will continue to wear masks in public spaces for a variety of reasons, even if they are vaccinated. For example, after 5 days of isolation or quarantine, masks will continue to be required in days 6-10 in public spaces, as they are now.

CDPH recommends Chicagoans who may be immunocompromised or have a family member who is immunocompromised still wear a mask, as well residents under the age of 5 who are still not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Officials asked city residents to “please be kind and considerate of your fellow Chicagoans and the decisions we all continue to make to protect themselves and those around them.”

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