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Cook County man is Illinois’ 5th coronavirus case

A man in his 20s who traveled to Italy earlier this month, and flew into O’Hare Airport, is the state’s fifth confirmed case of coronavirus.

Rush University Medical Center
Rush University Medical Center
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

A Cook County man in his 20s is Illinois’ fifth confirmed case of coronavirus, the state’s Department of Public Health said Thursday.

The man is a Cook County resident who flew into O’Hare Airport earlier this month after traveling to Italy, the department said. The man “acquired the infection” while in Italy and is hospitalized at Rush University Medical Center in isolation.

Public health officials are looking for all of his close contacts.

Rush University Medical Center said it admitted a patient with the COVID-19 disease early Thursday.

“Rush was built for this, and our entire Rush team is well prepared to address this evolving situation, including meeting the needs of all of our patients without compromising the care of anyone visiting Rush for other reasons,” the medical center said in a news release.

The third and fourth cases were an Arlington Heights couple in their 70s. Both are isolated, with the woman at home and the man at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

The department said it’s still unclear how the couple contracted the virus. That means health officials are looking into whether the couple contracted the virus “due to community transmission in Illinois.”

“Both individuals recently traveled to another state, but health officials have not been able to link them to a COVID-19 confirmed case in Illinois or the other state,” the department said in a news release. “Therefore, because IDPH has been unable to identify a point of exposure for these two cases, IDPH believes it is possible these cases may be due to community transmission in Illinois.”

“While we expect to see additional cases, we are not seeing widespread transmission of the virus in Illinois and we believe the risk to the general public remains low,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “We understand people are concerned, but we want to reassure residents that we have been working with local health departments, hospitals, clinicians, the CDC, and other state agencies around the clock and are using every resource at our disposal to prepare.”

Speaking at Springfield news conference, Ezike said community transmission “is expected” but the risk to average Illinoisans is low.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaking at a news conference.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaking at a news conference Thursday to update the public on the state’s coronavirus response.
Neal Earley/Sun-Times

At that same news conference, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said state government is on alert for any “price gouging” by health insurance companies — and that he has spoken personally with the CEOs of health insurance companies in the Illinois.

Pritzker also said Illinois is not at the point where large public events such as sporting events should be canceled.

Italy is the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak. More than 3,000 people have been infected and at least 107 have died in Italy, the most of any country outside China, where the illness began, the Associated Press reported.

Loyola University Chicago students who are studying abroad at the university’s Rome campus had their semesters cut short as concerns grew about the coronavirus and its spread through Europe. The university sent all students home from its John Felice Rome Center by Wednesday, school officials announced Saturday.

All students will also have to stay at home for a 14-day observation period, under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even as the tally of coronavirus cases in Illinois reached four, Pritzker on Monday had vowed the risk to the public remains low.

Two other Illinois patients who contracted coronavirus in China — a Chicago couple — have recovered.

Last month, Illinois became the first state able to test for the new coronavirus without having to send samples to the CDC. That means test results typically should be available in about 24 hours, officials said.

A state hotline for questions about coronavirus has been created: 1-800-889-3931.

Contributing: Neal Earley