Officials Say They Don't Know How 2 Illinois Coronavirus Patients Were Exposed

The state's third and fourth cases were confirmed in a couple, a man and woman in their 70s. A fifth case was just confirmed Thursday

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With the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois climbing to five, Illinois health officials on Thursday said it's still unclear how some of the recent patients were exposed.

The state's third and fourth cases were confirmed in a couple, a man and woman in their 70s, who are both currently in home isolation "and are doing well," the Illinois Department of Public Health said.

"At this time, the exposure route for the third and fourth cases is not known," the health department said in a statement. "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."

Test results for both cases tested positive in Illinois, but only one has been confirmed so far by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, officials announced Thursday that a fifth person had tested positive for the virus in Illinois - a Cook County resident in his 20s who flew into O'Hare Airport earlier this month after traveling to Italy.

"The individual acquired the infection while in Italy and is hospitalized at Rush University Medical Center in isolation," the statement reads. "Public health officials are identifying and contacting all close contacts."

The patient was tested at an IDPH laboratory, officials said, and his specimens have been sent to the CDC for confirmatory testing.

While there is a coronavirus screening process at O’Hare International Airport, passengers flying into the Chicago airport from Italy and South Korea aren’t currently being screened, officials said Thursday.

“The state of Illinois is working around the clock to contain COVID-19 and educate the public,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “Public health officials anticipated there would be additional cases and we will continue to implement robust measures to contain the virus while also preparing for further transmission. The risk of COVID-19 to the general public in Illinois remains low, but we encourage the public to be vigilant and take extra care with the normal precautions you should take during flu season.”

Worldwide, more than 94,000 people have been sickened and more than 3,200 have died from the rapidly-spreading virus.

“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.”

School District 25 in the Arlington Heights, the northwest Chicago suburb where the third patient was being treated, said in a letter Sunday that two staff members and their children were staying home and self monitoring after possible exposure. The group was contacted by a babysitter whose relative, a hospital employee, had been exposed to the coronavirus patient.

CPS also addressed questions about whether the Chicago school district would consider closing schools as coronavirus concerns persist.

None of the employees or their children have experienced symptoms, the district said earlier this week.

The district's superintendent urged students who are sick to stay home until at least 24 hours after they no longer show signs of a fever and reminded staff and families of basic health precautions to take, like washing your hands and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

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.

At a news conference Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said as a precautionary measure, the state will expand to two additional testing labs in central and southern Illinois in the coming week.

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.

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