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286 Illinoisans being monitored for coronavirus, but Pritzker says risk to public remains low

Gov. J. B. Pritzker also visited Chicago’s Chinatown on Monday to help support businesses; neighborhood merchants say they’ve seen a drop in customers since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, discuss the state’s third and fourth confirmed cases of coronavirus on Monday in Chicago.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, discuss the state’s third and fourth confirmed cases of coronavirus on Monday in Chicago.
Tina Sfondeles/Sun-TImes

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

The couple, in their 70s, are isolated — the woman at home, and the man at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, the governor said at a Chicago press conference alongside the state’s director of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Ngozi Ezike. Both are in good condition.

“Federal, state, county and hospital level public officials are working to actively identify any individuals who were in contact with this couple,” Pritzker said.

Two other Illinois patients who contracted coronavirus in China, also a couple, have fully recovered.

Details remain sparse about how the Arlington Heights couple contracted the virus, and Ezike said it is still being determined where and when the exposure occurred. But Ezike said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alongside local and state officials, are working to ensure that the virus is not spread. That includes keeping healthcare workers at home who were in contact with the patients.

Ezike said the best place for patients who test positive for coronavirus to be is at home, to minimize exposure to other health care workers. She said 286 Illinois residents are being monitored twice a day for symptoms. That number fluctuates based on how many days after they were potentially exposed to the virus.

“If they develop fever and respiratory symptoms and then they get tested, they can get confirmed. That’s when we count them as a case,” Ezike said, adding, “but all the people who potentially are exposed, we’re not getting into details of all of those individuals.”

The state is also beginning “sentinel surveillance,” which includes taking samples voluntarily from people who agree to participate if they go to a hospital with flu-like symptoms but test negative for the flu or other common respiratory viruses. That is happening at select “pilot hospitals, in “northern lllinois,” Ezike said. The plan is to expand that program to southern and central Illinois.

“We are using every tool and every resource at our disposal to contain the spread of this virus,” Ezike said. “We are still in containment mode.”

Pritzker also visited Chinatown businesses Monday to help support merchants who say they’ve seen a drop in customers since the coronavirus outbreak began.

“Over the past few weeks, misinformation has caused business and foot traffic to drop significantly, and that’s bad news for the restaurants and shop owners and everyone that they employ,” Pritzker said. “So, please join me in enjoying all the neighborhood has to offer.”

The governor said said he was on a Monday morning call with Vice President Mike Pence and other governors about coronavirus preparedness and response. The Democratic governor also said he plans to speak to CEOs of the state’s largest insurance companies about accessibility and affordability of coronavirus testing and care.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will send a letter to insurance companies “to let them know we are on alert for any price gouging or unfair coverage practices and reminding them of their obligations under the law, in terms of coverage of insured and underinsured patients,” Pritzker said.

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.