Ninety-nine students, nearly 6 percent of all students who attend Riverside Elementary School District 96 schools, tested positive for COVID last week. 

That total includes 41 students at L.J. Hauser Junior School or more than 7 percent of that school’s enrollment, along with 23 students at Ames School, 20 at Central School, 10 at Hollywood School and five at Blythe Park School. 

Despite the surge in cases, District 96 officials say that they have no plans to shift to remote learning.

“We are not close to going to remote right now,” Angela Dolezal, the director of teaching and learning for District 96, said. “While it is not an easy situation, our goal is to make sure we keep kids in school.”

Students in District 96 who test positive are required to quarantine at home for at least five days before they are allowed to come back to school. Those students are able to attend their classes remotely from home.

“Students are able to Zoom into a classroom, they have a virtual link set up,” said Dolezal. “At a minimum, students are able to hear instruction.”

District 96 uses saliva testing to screen students. That seems to be a factor in the large number of positive cases in District 96, since asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases are identified with saliva screening. Some people who had COVID up to three months ago can test positive on a saliva test.

Thirty-two of the 41 cases at Hauser and 17 of the 23 cases at Ames were identified through saliva testing.

“You can kind of make an assumption that if somebody comes out positive on a saliva test it’s possible that they were asymptomatic because they were in school to take the saliva screening,” said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. “We want to encourage our families to stay with the plan to participate in saliva screening. We do believe it’s a way we’re keeping COVID out of the schools to the best of our ability.”

Six staff members in District 96 tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Ryan-Toye said two District 96 principals contracted COVID during the winter break but they are both back at work. 

Thus far, Ryan-Toye said, the district has been able to cover for teachers who have had to miss school because of COVID. 

“I’m [hoping], fingers crossed, that maybe we’re through worst of the surge, but I don’t think we are,” Ryan-Toye said.

Local case numbers hit new heights

The record number of cases for one week in District 96 reflect a larger trend seen in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside generally.

For the third consecutive week, Brookfield hit a record high in the number of cases within a one-week period. For the week ending Jan. 10, there were 310 new cases of COVID-19 in Brookfield, according to figures from the Cook County Department of Public Health.

North Riverside saw its sixth straight week of case increases, with a record 103 recorded for the week ending Jan. 10. In Riverside, there were 117 new cases recorded during that time period after a record 123 the previous week.

The Cook County Medical Examiner last week also reported two more local residents had died from COVID-19, a 70-year-old Brookfield man who died on Jan. 5 and an 88-year-old Riverside woman who died on Dec. 24, 2021.

That brings the total number of fatal cases of COVID-19 in Brookfield to 21 and in Riverside to six. In North Riverside, four people have died from COVID-19, but none since Jan. 11, 2021.

Statewide deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise as the omicron variant takes hold as the dominant strain of the virus. The rolling seven-day total for COVID-19 deaths in Illinois was 75 – the highest since late January 2021. That rolling total is still about half the number of deaths per day on a rolling basis at the worst of the second surge in late 2020. On Dec. 7, 2020, the seven day rolling number of deaths in Illinois was 152.

As of Jan. 8, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, omicron cases represented 55.27 percent of all cases in the state. At Christmas, the omicron variant represented less than 5 percent of cases.