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CHICAGO (CBS) — Testing, lines, positive, negative – words we all probably heard way too much over the winter holiday.

There is no denying that we are in the middle of another COVID surge. So how do we move forward?

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CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey on Monday dug into testing troubles for Chicago Public Schools kids. We have learned nearly 25,000 students’ test kits could not be processed.

Several parents received notices about weather= and holiday-related shipping issues, which meant the tests they gave their kids and dropped off at FedEx locations last week were worthless by the time they got to the lab.

We showed you the piles of COVID-19 mail-in tests for CPS students engulfing FedEx drop boxes last week. Plenty of parents were worried the precarious piles wouldn’t make it to the labs to be processed.

“We don’t even know if they’re going to make it through, or if they’re going to be compromised just sitting here unattended,” said CPS parent Lorena Paredes.

And according to the latest data posted to the Chicago Public Schools website, 35,816 tests were completed between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1 – but 24,986 were ruled “invalid.”

Many parents received emails from the testing vendor saying that some of the samples were delayed in transit due to “weather and holiday-related shipping issues.”

Since the tests must be processed within a 48-hour window, those results are worthless.
The testing vendor, COLOR, told us as a result, they supported extended testing drop-off hours as well as additional testing days this week.

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“When we saw the photos last week of tests stacked up outside of drop boxes, right there, that was a signal that we had a problem.” said Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Carnethon said she was concerned when she saw images of drop boxes overflowing with tests.

But she was also worried about the mail-in plan from the beginning, because there was still a five- or six-day lag between collecting the test sample and kids coming to school Monday morning.

“What a nightmare,” Carnethon said. “The strategy of using a mail-in test during a busy time of year for the Postal Service, and when weather delays happen, was a faulty strategy from the start. And there was a large risk of what we saw happen today, which is that many children returned to the classrooms and we don’t know their status.”

Carnethon said parents who were unable to get test kits, or their kits were invalidated, should still try to get their kids tested at one of the many community-based testing sites across the city.

A CPS spokesperson said the district is looking into the problems with the invalidated tests:

“Over the holiday weekend, we learned from our vendors, ThermoFisher and Color, that more than half of the 40,000 submitted tests could not be validated. While we continue to seek answers, we are focused on increasing on-site testing opportunities for the impacted students and schools this week as part of our ongoing weekly testing. That weekly in-school testing resumes at all our schools this week, starting with 120 schools today, as well as all other safety measures that have been in place since schools were safely re-opened to in-person learning in spring of 2021. We will continue to work with ThermoFisher and Color to support families who still want to use the remainder of the distributed home kits for this FDA-approved COVID test, and we will follow up with more information about how that could work.”

“Testing results are not required in order for students to attend school today. We have advised parents to keep students home if they are sick. We further remind our community that informal, last-minute learning and care spaces typically have fewer COVID-19 safety protections in place than schools. Districtwide, unwarranted and preemptive mass school closures could actually fuel community spread. Taken together with other profound harms–physical, mental, academic, and social and emotional–associated with remote-only learning, CPS stands firmly on its decision to protect and promote child health by keeping schools safe and open.”

While CPS strongly encouraged testing students before they returned to school, a negative test was not mandatory.

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Meanwhile, anecdotally, many parents spoke out on social media about keeping their kids home because of COVID infection rates or the testing issue. We reached out to CPS about attendance figures for Monday, and were still waiting on a response early in the evening.

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