Screening Students and Staff for Asymptomatic Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Chicago Schools

Priya R. Edward*, Megan E. Reyna, Mary Kate Daly, Judd F. Hultquist, William J. Muller, Egon A. Ozer, Ramon Lorenzo-Redondo, Patrick C. Seed, Lacy M. Simons, Karen Sheehan, Jacinta Staples, Larry Kociolek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: To assess rates of asymptomatic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) positivity in K-8 schools with risk mitigation procedures in place, and to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 transmission in school and household contacts of these positive individuals. Study design: In this prospective observational study, screening testing for SARS-CoV-2 was performed by oropharyngeal swabbing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis in students and staff at K-8 private schools in high-risk Chicago ZIP codes. New coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) diagnoses or symptoms among participants, household contacts, and nonparticipants in each school were queried. Results: Among 11 K-8 private schools across 8 Chicago ZIP codes, 468 participants (346 students, 122 staff members) underwent screening testing. At the first school, 17 participants (36%) tested positive, but epidemiologic investigation suggested against in-school transmission. Only 5 participants in the subsequent 10 schools tested positive for an overall 4.7% positivity rate (1.2% excluding school 1). All but 1 positive test among in-person students had high PCR cycle threshold values, suggesting very low SARS-CoV-2 viral loads. In all schools, no additional students, staff, or household contacts reported new diagnoses or symptoms of COVID-19 during the 2 weeks following screening testing. Conclusions: We identified infrequent asymptomatic COVID-19 in schools in high-risk Chicago communities and did not identify transmission among school staff, students, or their household contacts. These data suggest that COVID-19 mitigation procedures, including masking and physical distancing, are effective in preventing transmission of COVID-19 in schools. These results may inform future strategies for screening testing in K-8 schools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-80.e1
Journaljournal of pediatrics
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • asymptomatic
  • coronavirus disease 2019
  • schools
  • screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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