Your guide to COVID-19 data in schools


We’ll update this story as new data and information becomes available, so check back frequently.

Students from Chicago and Illinois are back in the classroom. And this year, in addition to the usual grades, attendance, and test scores, parents have one more metric to follow: How many cases of coronavirus are showing up at my child’s school?

To get started, here are the official local trackers to watch out for:

  • Chicago Public Schools have created a COVID-19 Dashboard for the 2021-22 school year.

  • Illinois Department of Public Health monitors school-aged children epidemics and exposures for the rest of the state, including the Cook County suburb.

  • In addition, WBEZ follows vaccination rate for children ages 12 to 17 for the Chicago metro area of ​​six counties by zip code.

But the storm of data points and technical terms may have made you wonder: where does the data come from? How often is it updated? And, what is missing? To solidify your information search, we’ve turned the CPS and IDPH source data into simple research tools – and explain the quirks of the underlying data in a section we’ll update as we learn more. .

Chicago Public Schools: Find Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Close Contacts at Your School

The CPS reports the number of confirmed cases and close contacts on his website – both at the district level and by individual school. The school district started the year by posting weekly reports, but began posting updates more frequently.

Using source data from CPS, the WBEZ search tool allows you to search for your school, compare schools side by side, and sort by number of cases and contacts.

Suburban Cook and the Rest of Illinois: Find COVID-19 Outbreaks and Exposures by School

The Illinois Department of Public Health manages data collection for areas outside of Chicago, including the suburb of Cook and beyond. Instead of providing specific numbers like the CPS does, the state health department reports on epidemics, which he defines as clusters of two or more cases linked by time and place.

The IDPH groups these outbreaks into ranges – less than five, five to 10, or more than 10 – in order to disguise the identity of children who have tested positive in a given school, especially very small ones. This dataset trades precision for confidentiality, making it difficult to detect large outbreaks or analyze changes over time.

Here we have collected and republished the IDPH data on COVID-19 outbreaks in a correspondence table. The state health department’s online tracker does not specify where the schools are located, but we have retrieved the underlying data that feeds the IDPH tracker and found that it has more information than the website. does not display. You can therefore use the tool below to search by school, city or department.

The IDPH also reports potential exposures, which include confirmed and probable cases based on contact tracing. However, this dataset does not include the city name, so you can only search by school or county.

Illinois: Find adolescent vaccination rates by zip code

WBEZ follows vaccination rate for children aged 12 to 17 by postal code. We intend to update these figures on a monthly basis.

You can use the search tool below to search vaccination rate by postal code or zoom in on the map.

If you are really curious, here are the technical details

These datasets have various omissions that make it difficult to draw comprehensive conclusions about the spread of the coronavirus in schools. Here are some of the issues we have identified.

Apples and oranges, guys. The IDPH and the CPS publish similar but not identical data, making it difficult to compare cases between, for example, a CPS school and a school in the suburb of Cook County. The CPS reports exact case totals, while the IDPH only describes outbreaks in large numerical ranges.

Some reports are duplicative. We noticed that a handful of Chicago schools appear in the IDPH data. This can happen when a CPS school reports an outbreak to the Chicago Department of Public Health, which in turn passes the information on to the state’s health department. When this happens, the school appears in the CPS and IDPH databases.

This can lead to inconsistencies. Local and state counts can get out of sync as different agencies investigate cases of COVID-19, creating multiple data streams. Take Barry Elementary School in Hermosa, for example. According to the potential exposure data from the HDI, there were between two to four cases of COVID-19 where individuals reported Barry as a place they had visited as of September 10.

But if you search for Barry Elementary in the CPS database, the tool reports 0 confirmed cases as of September 15.

cps search demo

We don’t know why the CPS and the health department information don’t match. To better understand how this process works, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Data is delayed and latency is difficult to predict. If you are a CPS teacher or parent, you may have recently been notified of a case of COVID-19 at your school that was not reflected in the district tracker. Similar anecdotes from delayed contact tracing reports accumulate.

CPS updates are sporadic. CPS started the school year by posting weekly reports on Wednesdays, but began posting more frequent updates at the end of September. Its tracking tool also no longer shows when the records were last published, making it unclear whether the number of cases is up to date.

Agencies can change numbers after publication. CPS recently posted the following message on its tracker: “On September 20, CPS discovered a data issue in its reporting platform producing duplicate cases in the actionable cases graph below. Cases that were reported more than once or were later withdrawn due to this issue have now been removed from the total number of cases. “

The IDPH warns users that all data is “provisional”, which means their figures are subject to updates, including retroactive. This presents a challenge when examining how cases, outbreaks and potential exposures of COVID-19 change over time, as the IDPH only publishes current outbreak data and removes historical data from its site. Web.

Charmaine Runes is the data / visual journalist for WBEZ. Am here @maerunes. Matt Kiefer is the data editor for WBEZ. Follow it @matt_kiefer


We retrieve the IDPH website for datasets on school epidemics and potential exposures in schools, which update on Friday.

We download CPS reports from their COVID-19 preparedness website, which are updated “after notification of the persons concerned”. Previously, these reports were updated once a week on Wednesdays.

We calculate immunization rates for children ages 12 to 17 by postal code using immunization data from public record requests and publicly available population counts from the Census Bureau. Rates are the number of children aged 12 to 17 who received a full set of vaccines divided by the population of the same age group as estimated by the 2019 Census Bureau American Community Survey (Table B09001_009E). We have confirmed this methodology with the IDPH. These data are updated monthly.

We constructed the map of vaccination rates for 12 to 17 year olds by attaching ZIP vaccination rate data to a spatial file with each ZIP code tab area (ZCTA) in Illinois. ZCTAs are a Census Bureau’s spatial representation of U.S. Postal Service zip codes, which are not geographic areas but rather a collection of mail delivery routes.


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