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Pritzker announces 4 new coronavirus cases, declares state of emergency

Gov. J.B. Pritzker made the “disaster proclamation” Monday, saying, “I want folks to understand: This is going to affect your daily life.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday Illinois now has 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation Monday as he announced the state’s tally of coronavirus patients reached 11, with four new cases identified in Chicago.

The declaration, Illinois’ version of a state of emergency, was needed to open up access to additional federal funding that would help the state in its COVID-19 response, Pritzker said.

“We don’t need it now, but we may need it in the near future ... because we can see, from the other states, from the other countries, what’s coming. There’s going to be an increase in cases,” Pritzker said.

Two of the new patients identified Monday — a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 70s — are both family members of the special education aide at Vaughn Occupational High School who tested positive Friday, said Allison Arwady, Chicago’s health commissioner.

No new CPS cases

Despite the new cases connected to the aide, Arwady said there so far is “no sign of transmission at the school” and no reports of serious illness in any students or staff. The aide’s two relatives are not Vaughn employees and have not had any contact with the school.

“Obviously this school is a population of students with special needs, so our response has been particularly robust,” Arwady said at a Thompson Center news conference with Pritzker. “Although more lab tests are pending, at this point the tests that have returned on students and staff have been negative,” including those who visited emergency rooms on their own.

“I’d like to reassure people that these two new cases associated with the employee at Vaughn High School highlight what we know about this virus, particularly that close contacts to confirmed cases are the ones most at risk,” Arwady said.

In a letter sent to all Chicago Public Schools families shortly after the press conference, schools chief Janice Jackson said “this case remains an isolated incident” at CPS, and that the district was expected to finish a deep clean of Vaughn by the end of the day.

Pritzker said officials at the state and local level “are working hard to stay ahead of this,” but that he wants “people to understand [that] this is going to affect your daily life.”

The governor urged residents to follow the advice of health professionals.

“If you think you might be sick, please take no risks that might endanger others in the community,” Pritzker said.

He added that nobody should be hoarding supplies they don’t need, such as masks, because “you are keeping supplies from the health care professionals that need them.”

“Do not let fear replace level-headedness,” Pritzker said.

The third new case announced Monday is a woman in her 50s who had traveled from California to Illinois. The fourth is a woman in her 70s who recently returned from an Egyptian cruise.

No decision on mass gatherings

People who have been in close contact with a confirmed case are being told to self-quarantine, Arwady said.

Asked if there were consequences for anyone who might violate orders to self quarantine, Pritzker responded: “There is no legal consequence today. But I will say that I think people know what they should be doing ... but to be honest with you, people have been very cooperative in this. Illinois is a special place in that way.”

As to whether experts will recommend canceling events expected to be attended by large amounts of people, Arwady said officials haven’t gone that far yet.

“At this point there has not been a decision to cancel large mass gatherings,” Arwady said, noting that the conversation about whether to recommend against such gatherings is renewed on a daily basis.

Also Monday, the Illinois State Board of Education sent a letter to school districts saying the state isn’t recommending schools be closed, but it left the decision up to the local districts. It also said that students who want to self-quarantine and stay home from school — even without symptoms or a proven medical reason — should generally be allowed to do so and shouldn’t receive an unexcused absence.

The state is also encouraging all districts to have an e-learning plan in place in case the school needs to close. And because those plans need to be approved, the state board is proposing legislative changes that would allow expedited approval for e-learning plans during a public health emergency.

As of Monday, more than 650 infections and 26 deaths had been reported in the United States.

One more thing of note: Hoping to allay coronavirus fears and keep fans in seats, the folks who run the United Center stressed Monday that the building is getting “cleaned and sanitized” before and after every event.

“Our professionals are using hospital-grade disinfectant and continually wiping down all surfaces, such as countertops, door handles and armrests,” according to a letter addressed to “fans and visitors” that was signed by United Center Executive Vice President Terry Savarise and distributed Monday.

“We have also added multiple hand sanitation stations at all entrances and in high-traffic areas of the arena. And, of course, soap and cleaning products will be overstocked in all bathrooms for visitor use,” the letter stated.

Contributing: Associated Press