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Bar opening in rural Illinois linked to COVID-19 outbreak that infected 46, prompted school closure

Attendees included a person who tested positive for the virus a day earlier and four others who had symptoms and were later diagnosed. The event was also linked to cases among individuals who weren’t there, including five kids, two student athletes and two residents of a long-term care facility.

A technician handles a blood sample to test for COVID-19 at a Harwood Heights facility on April 22.
A technician handles a blood sample to test for COVID-19 at a Harwood Heights facility on April 22.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

The opening of a bar earlier this year in rural Illinois was connected to a COVID-19 outbreak that infected 46 people and prompted the temporary closure of a school, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Monday.

On Feb. 17, the Illinois Department of Public Health was informed of a possible outbreak in people who attended the event about two weeks earlier after a cluster of coronavirus cases was found, the CDC said in its report. The name and location of the bar weren’t included in the report, which said the event was held indoors “with no outside air flow.”

Among those infected were three staff members and 26 patrons, including a person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 a day earlier but wasn’t symptomatic and four others who had symptoms and later tested positive. There were also 17 “secondary cases” among individuals who didn’t attend the event, including five school-age children, two student athletes and two residents of a long-term care facility — one of whom was briefly hospitalized.

The outbreak ultimately resulted in a school closure that affected 650 children, the CDC said. The shutdown started Feb. 18 and stretched for two weeks because 13 school staffers were “in isolation, in quarantine, or absent because their own child was quarantined.”

In addition to detailing the virus’ cascading and insidious effect on communities, the report warns of the inherent risks of reopening businesses during the pandemic and reinforces the need to enforce common mitigation efforts.

“This includes enforcing consistent and correct mask use, maintaining [over six feet] of physical distance between persons, reducing indoor bar occupancy, prioritizing outdoor seating, improving building ventilation, and promoting behaviors such as staying at home when ill, as well as implementing contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine when COVID-19 cases are diagnosed,” the report states.

The CDC report comes as Illinois’ rolling coronavirus positivity rate is on the rise, a troubling trend that could lead officials to tighten restrictions on businesses again.