Winnetka, News

Officials link dozens of New Trier COVID cases to ‘large gatherings,’ do not rule out on-campus spread

New Trier High School has recorded its highest number of reported COVID-19 cases, as four dozen students have tested positive for the virus and 163 others are in quarantine, according to district data.

Dr. Paul Sally, the district’s superintendent, said officials “certainly know” that there have been “a couple of large gatherings” that they believe generated many of the cases.

Sally led the board of education through an update on the district’s operational plan and metrics Monday, Feb. 8, during a committee of the whole meeting.

“We see a lot of connections with some of these gatherings and we have to do our best to stress the urgency of abiding by all of our efforts,” said Sally, who also told the board the district is still investigating if the virus was spread at New Trier.

On top of the 48 reported positive cases of the virus, one student returned a positive saliva sample to the district’s screening program and is currently awaiting a PCR test result, per district data.

Additionally, at least eight students are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the district’s metrics dashboard shows. As of data published on Feb. 10, 152 students and 11 staff members are in quarantine.

The report comes two weeks after Loyola Academy shut down its in-person learning for a week following a spike in COVID-19 cases also linked to off-campus social gatherings.

Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally addresses the board of education Feb. 8 during a committee of the whole meeting.

Within days of athletics getting the OK to return to action across the state, four New Trier sports teams — three levels of basketball and one of the dance teams — have reportedly halted competition and are part of the quarantine group.

Two of those teams are varsity girls and boys basketball. The Trevians girls team has canceled three of its games (Saturday, Feb. 6; Monday, Feb. 8; Thursday, Feb. 11). The team plans to open its season Saturday, Feb. 13, hosting Glenbrook North at 1 p.m.

The boys team, which won its opener against Maine West Saturday, Feb. 6, will reportedly be sidelined for one week and skip games on Tuesday, Feb. 9, Friday, Feb. 12, and Saturday, Feb. 13. The sophomore games on those days are also canceled, according to the Trevians digital sports calendar; though, it is not confirmed that it is because of COVID-19.

According to the district, if a positive diagnosis is returned from any student-athlete, the associated team is out for a minimum of 10 days.

The quarantine period would start from the last day that the teams were together, which was Saturday, Feb. 6. If the test results all come back negative, the teams could return to play.

Board members and school officials expressed disappointment in what they consider to be a small portion of the school’s population wreaking havoc on the district’s battle to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m clearly frustrated by this small minority of people who are putting everybody else at risk … and (Dr. Sally) said it right from the beginning, we are all in this together,” board member Greg Robitaille said. “And the weakest link is really going to break this whole thing down for all of the rest of us.

The board expressed frustration regarding the uptick in cases that are largely related to off-campus gatherings.

“So I can’t emphasize enough that people need to be accountable and responsible and honest about their behavior and take the appropriate action. This is not fooling around. This is serious and we will face another pause if this gets too out of control.”

For the first time in a public setting, Sally questioned if there had been in-school transmission of the virus.

“I will say that we have no final determination yet, but there are situations that we’re looking at,” Sally told the board about on-campus spread. “There were some … non-classroom, so it’s sort of the unique classroom environment that we’re just looking at trying to make sure that we understand.

“What you have now is a web of connections, so to say it’s any one thing can be difficult but that doesn’t mean we’re not looking into it to make sure what protocols were followed and the situations and does anything need to change from it.”

Sally added that the district “still feels really comfortable with the level of protocols” that it has and the “way it’s keeping staff and students safe.”

Officials will expedite their efforts to remove any ambiguity in the district’s daily screening questionnaire, which prompts parents to answer a handful of questions related to their activity.

Editor’s note: This article was updated Wednesday, Feb. 10 with new data from New Trier High School.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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