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Joliet Catholic Academy will shut down in-person learning for one week after four students tested positive for COVID-19.
The shutdown comes just two weeks into JCA's venture into in-person learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, although the school plans to resume in-person classes on Sept. 14 and will continue e-learning classes in the meantime.
School officials believe the students contracted the virus off campus.
JCA is among Catholic schools in the Joliet area that started the school year with in-person classes, although it employed a hybrid model with expectations that coronavirus problems could develop.
The decision to shut down in-person classes was made Friday when school officials learned of three more cases after one student had tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week, said Ryan Quigley, director of admissions and communications.
Quigley said JCA in working with the Will County Health Department determined that the four cases are related to an "off-campus social experience."
"Four positive cases alone don't shut down the school," he said.
The decision to convert to e-learning was made to protect students and staff as JCA and the health department determine the extent of the COVID-19 infection at the school, he said.
"Our protocol is whenever there is a positive case we report to the Will County Health Department," Quigley said. "They do contact tracing. We deep clean the building."
Contact tracing led to the identification of additional COVID-19 cases after the initial student began to show symptoms.
"When the first student had a headache, the other students that were with him went in and got tested," Quigley said.
JCA has been operating with in-person learning four days a week and e-learning on Wednesdays. Students also are allowed to e-learn full-time if they prefer.
Setting aside one day for e-learning was done to be ready in case JCA needed to shift away from in-person classes because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
"With our return-to-school plan, we're not naive to think that the coronavirus is not out there," Quigley said.
JCA went back to school the week that the state prohibited restaurants and bars in Will County from indoor dining because of a rise in positivity ratings in testing for COVID-19.
There has been a small rise in cases among teens but a bigger increase among people in their 20s, said Steve Brandy, spokesman for the Will County Department of Public Health.
"A lot more younger people are getting it," Brandy said. "A lot more people are probably not using common sense when it comes to masking, social distancing, and being aware they can get it."