Pritzker, Health Officials Detail Illinois' Coronavirus Response

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and state health officials detailed on Friday morning the coordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak, as the health crisis continues to spread, killing more 2,700 people worldwide and sparking an economic panic.

"Our top priority is keeping Illinoisans safe and to this point, Illinois has successfully contained the virus to two confirmed cases and both patients have fully recovered and returned home," Pritzker said at a news conference at the Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop.

A Chicago couple was diagnosed with the coronavirus in January. The two patients - a husband and wife, both in their 60s - were released to their home from hospitalization earlier this month.

Pritzker said Friday that Illinois "was the first state and remains just one of a few states nationally able to test for the virus," adding that next week, as a precautionary measure, the state will expand to two additional testing labs in central and southern Illinois.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to start preparing for a possible pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States, noting it’s not a question of “if” the outbreak will happen but “when.”

"Additionally, following the recommendations of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and in lockstep with a few other large populations states, we are beginning voluntary testing at select hospitals to gather statistics on the presence of the virus in our communities. And we'll be extending that effort to our other partner hospitals statewide," Pritzker said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health launched a statewide hotline for the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, "to answer any questions from the public or to report a suspected case," Pritzker said. That number is 1 (800) 889-3931.

"The best thing the general public can do at this time is continue with the same precautions that you take during flu season with renewed vigilance," Pritzker said. "Take care to wash your hands. Stay home if you're sick. Cover your mouth and nose during any coughs or sneezes. And clean often touched surfaces or objects frequently. And please visit a doctor if you're experiencing any symptoms, particularly if you or a loved one recently traveled abroad."

Nearly 60 nations representing every continent except Antarctica have confirmed cases of the disease, with more than 80,000 people infected.

The CDC on Tuesday stepped up its call for the public to start preparing for a possible pandemic outbreak in the U.S., outlining what schools and businesses will likely need to do if the COVID-19 virus starts to spread.

Schools should consider dividing students into smaller groups or close and use “internet-based teleschooling,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

“For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options,” Messonnier said.

She said local communities and cities may need to “modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings.” Hospitals may need to triage patients differently, add more telehealth services and delay elective surgery, she said.

“Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and everyday people to begin preparing,” she said.

U.S. stocks fell sharply in early trading Friday and were on track for their worst week since October 2008 as the spreading coronavirus threatens to derail the global economy. The virus outbreak has been shutting down industrial centers, emptying shops and severely crimping travel all over the world. More companies are warning investors that their finances will take a hit because of disruptions to supply chains and sales. Governments are taking increasingly drastic measures as they scramble to contain the virus.

The virus, which causes the COVID-19 illness, has infected more than 79,000 people globally, and caused more than 2,600 deaths, most of them in China.

The Geneva auto show was cancelled as Swiss authorities banned large events of more than 1,000 people. Parts of Italy’s northern industrial and financial center remain under quarantine. Japan is preparing to close schools nationwide. The U.S. is preparing for the virus after a case unrelated to travel was confirmed in California.

The Chicago woman who was diagnosed with the coronavirus in January was the second confirmed case in the U.S., health officials announced on Jan. 24. She returned from Wuhan, China - the epicenter of the outbreak - on Jan. 13 and was later hospitalized, a state epidemiologist with the Illinois Department of Public Health said in announcing the diagnosis.

As fears around the coronavirus continue to rise in South Korea, long lines formed as people looked to buy face masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.

On Jan. 30, the CDC announced that her husband tested positive for the virus, marking the first instance of person-to-person spread in the U.S.

He had "close contact" with his wife and reported symptoms, health officials said. He was admitted to an area hospital on Jan. 28, the IDPH said, where his condition was stabilized.

Health officials with the CDC recommend getting a flu vaccine and "taking everyday preventative actions to help stop the spread of germs" in order to protect yourself from the coronavirus.

The IDPH has previously weighed in with specific ways to "help prevent the spread of coronaviruses and protect yourself from becoming infected":

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Regular surgical face masks are not effective in protecting against the coronavirus. A more specialized face mask known as N95 respirators are thicker than surgical masks and are fitted to a person’s face to keep out any viral particles.

"There are currently no vaccines to protect against human coronavirus infection," the IDPH wrote online. There also are no specific treatments. To help relieve symptoms, the IDPH recommends:

  • Take pain and fever medications
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Stay home and rest
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