UPDATED: Illinois, Chicago officials outline coronavirus response plans
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, flanked by Gov. JB Pritzker, discusses the state’s response plan in the event that novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, spreads further in Illinois. They spoke during a news conference Friday in Chicago. (Credit: illinois.gov)
Pritzker, Lightfoot say current risk is low, but public health agencies prepared for possible spread
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include information about an IDPH hotline.
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – As the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, disrupting global trade and rattling stock markets, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted Friday that state and local public health agencies are fully prepared to respond if the disease should spread further here.
“While the risk to the general public remains low, we want you to know our state and local agencies and officials are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the public’s health and safety are well guarded,” Pritzker said during a news conference in Chicago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 virus causes mild flu-like symptoms in otherwise healthy people, but in some cases it can become serious or even fatal. It is transmitted much like cold and flu viruses by person-to-person contact.
There is no vaccine for the virus, although efforts are underway to develop one. In the meantime, the CDC recommends the public take the same precautions that help prevent the spread of colds and the flu: avoid close contact with people who are sick; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; stay home when you are sick; and cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
So far, there have been only two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Illinois. Both were Chicago-area residents – a woman who had recently returned from Wuhan, China, the city at the center of the outbreak, and her husband who was diagnosed shortly after her return. Both have fully recovered.
As of Friday, CDC was reporting only 15 confirmed cases in the United States. There have been 47 additional cases in people who have repatriated to the U.S. – 44 of them from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
The virus reportedly originated in China but has since spread to every continent on the globe except Antarctica. Chicago, however, is home to O’Hare and Midway International Airports, facilities that could become transmission points as travelers from throughout the world pass through there.
Because of that, officials said the city and state have stepped up screening and monitoring the health of travelers returning from China at both airports.
“Here in Chicago, we moved quickly when we got the directive from the White House back in January to make sure that we were implementing additional screening measures at our airports,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve collaborated with dozens of our airline partners and staff and the CDC, (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) as well as Homeland Security on this issue.”
Pritzker and Lightfoot were joined at the news conference by several state and local public health officials. Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that by early next week, the state will have three laboratories – in Chicago, Springfield and Carbondale – that are able to test for the virus. She also said hospitals throughout the state will work with those labs to test people who show up with flu-like symptoms.
Other measures state and local officials are taking include providing regular guidance to hospitals and health care workers, including information about how to control infections and how to prevent themselves from becoming infected.
Officials are also distributing guidance for child care facilities, schools, universities and businesses as well as community-based and faith-based organizations.
They also recommend that businesses and employers actively encourage their workers to stay home if they feel sick, to wash their hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes.
Lightfoot also cautioned the public not to stigmatize individuals or businesses based on ethnicity.
“Our residents should continue and enjoy the city, its neighborhoods, particularly Chinatown, and its amenities as they normally do,” she said. “Fear cannot guide us in this moment. Thoughtfulness and preparations are the rule of the day.”
Gov. JB Pritzker said the Illinois Department of Public Health has set up a hotline that people can call to get more information about the virus or to report a suspected case: 1-800-8993931. Information is also available on the Department of Public Health’s website, idph.illinois.gov.