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Woman, 60, is first Chicago-area coronavirus patient

“This is a single, travel-associated case, not a local emergency,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks to members of the media about the first Chicago-area Coronavirus patient, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Chicago.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, talks about the area’s first coronavirus patient, a 60-year-old woman who recently traveled to Wuhan, China.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A 60-year-old Chicago woman who recently returned from a solo trip to China is the first person in the area confirmed to have contracted coronavirus, health officials said Friday.

It’s the second confirmed case of the virus in the United States and the first in Illinois.

“This is a single, travel-associated case, not a local emergency,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said at a news conference Friday. “We obviously take emerging viruses very seriously, and there are still many unanswered questions about this novel virus.”

The woman is being monitored at a hospital for “infection control,” Arwady said. Her condition has been stabilized.

“There is no need for the general public to change their behavior in any way based on this news,” Arwady said.

A spokeswoman for St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates confirmed the patient is being treated at the northwest suburban hospital.

“AMITA Health is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health to care for a patient who tested positive for novel coronavirus,” the spokeswoman, Olga Solares, said in a statement.

“The patient is being monitored in isolation, in accordance with established infection control protocols. We have contacted the small number of patients and staff who may have come into contact with the patient. Given the advanced information and training provided by the CDC, our staff was well-prepared to care for this patient.”

The woman returned Jan. 13 from visiting her ill father in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak is centered. Officials did not begin screening for coronavirus at O’Hare Airport and other U.S. airports until this week.

“A few days after arriving home, the patient began to feel unwell,” Arwady said. “She called ahead to alert her doctor to her illness, rather than just presenting to a clinic or an emergency room. This is exactly what any returning traveler from Wuhan should do.”

The woman’s doctor referred her “directly to a hospital with infection control capabilities,” Arwady said, declining to name the hospital.

The patient has had limited close contacts; all are currently well and will be monitored for symptoms. Since returning from China, the patient has had very limited movement outside the home, the CDC said.

“We will be following up with those folks, looking for symptoms — quick to follow up if there were any concern,” Arwady said. “And also, we’ll be working with the health care workers who have cared for or continued to care for this patient.”

“We are certainly not surprised to have a case” given Chicago is a global city, Arwady said.

There are many known types of coronaviruses. Some cause the common cold. Others found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

Common symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever. Shortness of breath, chills and body aches are associated with more dangerous kinds of coronavirus, according to the CDC.

Despite the virus hitting close to home, it was business as usual in Chicago’s Chinatown.

The main commercial streets in the neighborhood — Wentworth and Archer avenues and Cermak Road — had light foot traffic on a rainy and foggy Friday afternoon. Closer to dinnertime, restaurants filled up, with several owners calling the number of diners typical.

“It seems to be fine,” said Li Qiang, who lives close to Chinatown and was out for dinner. “There have been a couple people wearing masks and stuff, but that’s normal from before the virus.”

An employee at the Walgreens in Chinatown, near Archer and Cermak, said the store sold out of more than 300 medical face masks Friday morning. The employee said customers were asking about masks all day, but a new shipment isn’t scheduled to arrive until Tuesday.

With Chinese New Year this Saturday, Chinatown is set to host thousands next week for the annual Lunar New Year Parade, set for Feb. 2.