Illinois' fifth patient who tested positive for the coronavirus said in an interview Thursday that he's feeling "a lot better" and doesn't want anyone to be alarmed by the diagnosis.
The patient, a college student who has not been identified, is being treated at Rush University Medical Center after testing positive for the virus, health officials announced Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” he said in a phone interview with NBC 5’s Christian Farr. "I feel safe. I don’t want anybody to be alarmed or be too worried because obviously, it's hard when you see case number five on the news, you don’t really know what that means."
Speaking from his hospital bed at Rush, the junior at Vanderbilt University said he had been studying abroad in Italy for six weeks when the global outbreak hit Italy.
All the students in his program and 26 others in Florence were recalled to the U.S. at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
The student said he returned home Tuesday evening and wasn't feeling well, nearly immediately suspicious that he may have caught the virus.
"I actually was tested at my own kind of request," he said. "I hadn’t been tested in Italy. I wasn’t really showing any symptoms. I came home, walked in the door and told my parents, 'You know, after this long travel day I’m really not feeling well, I think I might have COVID-19 coronavirus."
He said his parents immediately called Rush and the hospital said they would be ready to test him as early as the following morning.
On Wednesday, the student said he underwent a battery of tests that lasted about eight hours.
"They screened me for all other sorts of viruses, or respiratory viruses or the flu or colds or anything like that, and after all those came back negative, they screened me for COVID," he said.
That test came back positive and he was placed in isolation - but he noted that his symptoms on Thursday were mild.
"Just very mild symptoms like runny nose, headache, cough, difficulty breathing but no high fever, nothing like that," he said, adding that the isolation has been a challenge as he recovers.
"I’m in quarantine right now, which is the right thing, but it's tough, like no visitors, but I’ve received over 400 text messages and phone calls so I'm very thankful for everybody who cares about me who reached out to me," he said.
He said that the hospital staff told him if he's doing well enough, he should be able to return home in the next few days - but the isolation won't be over.
"I’m doing pretty well right now, so they're hoping within the next two days that I'll be able to return home, but I will have to remain quarantined in my own house for probably the next two weeks."
Four patients in Illinois previously tested positive for the coronavirus amid the global outbreak, according to state health officials. Worldwide, more than 94,000 people have been sickened and more than 3,200 have died from the rapidly-spreading virus.
Illinois officials announced Monday that a woman in her 70s, the spouse of a man who tested positive over the weekend, was also diagnosed with the coronavirus, marking the state's fourth case.
State health officials said Thursday that the CDC had confirmed the husband's "presumptive positive" cases was the coronavirus, while they were still awaiting results on the woman's case. Officials said that both patients were in home isolation and "doing well" but that doctors were still unsure how they contracted the virus.
"At this time, the exposure route for the third and fourth cases is not known," the Illinois Department of Public Health said Thursday. "Both individuals recently traveled to another state, but health officials have not been able to link them to a COVID-19 confirmed case in Illinois or the other state."
Health officials said because they have been unable to identify a point of exposure for the third and fourth patients, they believe it's possible the cases "may be due to community transmission in Illinois."
“While we expect to see additional cases, we are not seeing widespread transmission of the virus in Illinois and we believe the risk to the general public remains low,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Thursday. “We understand people are concerned, but we want to reassure residents that we have been working with local health departments, hospitals, clinicians, the CDC, and other state agencies around the clock and are using every resource at our disposal to prepare.”
In January, two Chicago residents, a husband and wife, were diagnosed with the coronavirus. The wife had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, to care for a relative.
Both patients were treated at AMITA Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates and have since made a full recovery.
Last month, Illinois became the first state to conduct its own tests for the coronavirus, allowing for quicker results. The state also opened this week two additional testing labs in central and southern Illinois, Pritzker said.
On Monday, officials said Pritzker requested that hospitals across the state implement additional testing to "improve surveillance for COVID-19."
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.