Puerto Rico joins 22 states on Chicago’s 14-day travel quarantine list

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Tuesday urged Chicagoans to tighten their social circles. She said concerns about coronavirus have shifted to households and social gatherings, where people “trust each other and let their guard down.”

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Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady speaks during a press conference at City Hall Wednesday morning, July 15, 2020. Arwady and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot reported an uptick in COVID-19 patients who are aged 18-29 and warned the public that they will consider rolling back re-opening plans once the city sees more than 200 positive cases a day.

Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Puerto Rico on Tuesday joined 22 states on Chicago’s 14-day travel quarantine list amid concern about a surge in coronavirus cases among travelers, in households and at social gatherings.

With “more than five dozen confirmed cases” among travelers, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady urged Chicagoans to curtail all but the most essential trips and work from home when they return if travel cannot be avoided.

Last week, Arwady added Wisconsin, Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota to the travel advisory and warned compliance would no longer be voluntary.

This week, Puerto Rico was the only addition, having met the benchmark trigger of averaging more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

Iowa, Kansas and Utah were identified as fast-improving states that could be removed from the travel order as early as next week.

Arwady also backed off her earlier threat to issue tickets. The Health Department’s limited enforcement resources will not be diverted away from restaurants and bars and toward “aggressive enforcement techniques that we’ve seen in other places and frankly haven’t worked that well,” she said.

“I have absolutely no intention of pulling cars over that have out of state license plates. I have no intention of developing watchlists of people who are flying in through the airports. … But where we identify people of concern, we are sending warning letters,” Arwady said.

The commissioner said education alone has been “extremely effective.”

“We’ve gotten calls about this travel order, questions at a level that has suggested that people are paying serious attention” and putting off all but essential trips, she said.

Chicago’s positivity rate stands at 4.8% with a rolling, seven-day average of 270 new cases a day and 273 new cases Tuesday. Deaths are averaging three a day. Daily hospitalizations are under 10.

That’s a far cry from May, when Chicago was averaging 1,000 cases a day and the “worst day” surged to 1,500 new cases. Back then, daily hospitalizations were averaging 175 and deaths stood at nearly 50 a day.

With the coronavirus “in good control” in workplaces, homeless shelters, long-term care facilities and Cook County Jail, the concern has shifted to households and social gatherings where people “trust each other and let their guard down,” she said.

To drive home the point, Arwady read from a series of case studies in the last week. They include birthday parties, neighbors gathering without masks, dinners with friends and a teenager who hosted a two-day card tournament “with many people coming through the home,” infecting as many as 20 people.

The commissioner acknowledged none of those vignettes are “big, flashy stories.” But they pose a major challenge since the virus is spreading in private spaces the city “can’t regulate,” Arwady said.

“I know that you feel safe at home. ... I know that you feel safe when you’re among friends that you know. It’s easy to let your guard down. To not wear a mask. To not social distance. But the problem is, as we’re seeing cases increase, the risk is significantly higher and, as people are letting down their guard, they’re out, potentially contracting COVID, and then bringing it back into households,” she said.

“Our Chicago data — by and large the No. 1 risk factor — is exposure within the household. It is 10 times the risk of acquiring COVID than any of the other exposures. So I would ask you all to please think about ways that you can limit your close contacts. By that, I mean the people who you don’t keep distance from and you don’t wear masks” around.

Arwady warned again Chicago cases are headed in the wrong direction, primarily driven by a rise among young people between the ages of 18 and 29 and 30 and 39. They are engaging in risky behavior and bringing the virus home with them.

“We’ve flattened the curve before. We can do it again. And I want us to do it before we see that impact on hospitalizations or on deaths. It’s about everybody needing to make individual choices,” she said.

Asked if it was safe for parents to send their kids back to school, Arwady said it depends on whether the “local outbreak” is under control and whether schools have safeguards in place to control the spread.

“Our numbers are on the way up, so I have some concerns there,” she said.

But she quickly added, “I personally am in favor of having children in school. … Where the child is at school wearing a mask with the social distancing with the appropriate procedures in place, I honestly do not think the risk of spread is significant. I wouldn’t be promoting this if I thought it was.”

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