Winter break can’t come soon enough for beleaguered school administrators as they deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases this month. Last week, Riverside Elementary School District 96 had its worst week of the school year as far as COVID is concerned, as 17 students — including three first-graders in the same class at Ames School — tested positive.

Following the advice of the Cook County Department of Public Health, Superintendent Martha-Ryan-Toye decided not to quarantine the entire affected first-grade class at Ames. 

Instead, the three students who tested positive are isolating at home while their classmates are being tested more frequently to make sure that they don’t have COVID. Saliva testing, which is normally done once a week, occurred on Dec. 13 and students in the class will be tested again on Dec. 15.

“We were advised through Public Health and our SHIELD testing to keep the classroom open and up the testing frequency,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye.

The “test-to-stay” protocol is designed to keep as many students as possible attending school in person. Students who test negative remain in the classroom. In September an entire second-grade class at Ames was quarantined for two weeks after four students in the class tested positive for COVID.

Two other Ames School students tested positive last week as did nine students at Central School, and one each at each of the three other schools in the district: Blythe Park, Hollywood and Hauser.

Children under the age of 12 have only recently become eligible to receive vaccination shots against COVID. Ryan-Toye said that partially vaccinated students are among the students who tested positive last week in District 96.

COVID cases are also surging at other schools in the area. Seven students tested positive last week at Brook Park Elementary School in LaGrange Park after no students had tested positive in the previous week in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95.

Cases are also on the rise at Komarek School in North Riverside, where four students and three staff members have caught COVID so far this month. Prior to December only four students and four staff members had tested positive for COVID at Komarek since the school year began in August. Cases are also up at Congress Park School in Brookfield, where seven COVID cases have been reported this month. 

At Riverside-Brookfield High School cases are also surging, with 19 students and four staff members testing positive for COVID thus far in December. Ten of 19 students and three of the four staff members who tested positive at RBHS in December were fully vaccinated against COVID, according to Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. 

Two of the four staff members who tested positive at RBHS last week are contract employees and not technically employees of RBHS. Contract workers at RBHS include custodial workers and cafeteria employees as well as a few employees of the LaGrange Area Special Education cooperative (LADSE) and of the West 40 Regional school’s office.  

According to data from the high school, 76.4 percent of RBHS students and 95.3 percent of RBHS staff members are fully vaccinated.

Cases are also up at Lyons Township High School where 17 students and five staff members at tested positive for COVID last week.

Lincoln Elementary School Principal Theresa Silva did not return a call from the Landmark asking how many COVID cases there have been among students at the Brookfield school in December.

New cases spike throughout villages

For the seven-day period ending on Dec. 13, Riverside and North Riverside recorded their highest number of combined new cases of COVID-19 in 2021.

The two villages combined to record 74 new cases in the week, matching exactly the number of cases the two villages posted for the same week in 2020. Separately, Riverside recorded 36 new cases in the week ending Dec. 13 while North Riverside recorded 38.

The Cook County Medical Examiner did not report any fatalities from COVID-19 in either village for the week ending Dec. 13.

While the number of new cases has spiked, the seven-day rolling positivity rate for ZIP code 60546, which includes both Riverside and North Riverside, was 2.19 percent as of Dec. 13, according to the Northwestern School of Medicine’s online COVID dashboard. 

That’s a good deal lower than the rate for suburban Cook County as a whole, where the seven-day rolling positivity rate was 4.8 percent as of Dec. 10, the most recent data available from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The seven-day rolling positivity rate in Brookfield, meanwhile, is even higher. According to the Northwestern School of Medicine’s online dashboard, the rolling rate for Brookfield as of Dec. 13 was 5.21 percent.

The 80 new cases Brookfield recorded for the week ending Dec. 13 is the village’s highest one-week total since mid-January. No new fatalities were recorded in Brookfield during the week.

Bob Uphues contributed to this report.