City of Chicago Announces First Local Patient with Travel-Related Case of 2019-Novel Coronavirus

January 24, 2020

Patient is the second of two nationally diagnosed cases, officials note small risk to the general public

Andy Buchanan

CHICAGO – The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) today joined state and federal health officials as well as other City departments in reporting the first local resident with a confirmed case of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Health officials reassured the general public that the risk of the virus spreading still remains low. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first confirmed Friday morning the second case of coronavirus in the United States. The patient recently returned to Chicago from Wuhan, China, where an outbreak of pneumonia caused by the virus has been ongoing since December 2019.

“We’re pleased that the patient is doing well and getting the proper care, that the public health system responded appropriately, and that the risk of transmission to the general public is low,” said Allison Arwady, MD, MPH, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “We have worked very closely with federal, state, and local partners, not just in response to this case, but over many years to ensure the Chicago area has strong public health systems and is well prepared to respond to emerging infectious diseases.” 

The patient is in stable condition and remains hospitalized. Based on the information currently known about her activities since her return, there is no immediate health risk to the general public. The patient, a woman in her 60s, took the proper steps of calling ahead to her doctor before arriving at the emergency room and had no extended contact since arriving back in the U.S. She has since limited all close contacts. The general health risk from 2019-nCoV in both U.S. and Chicago is still deemed to be low at present.

“The Illinois Department of Public Health is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Chicago Department of Public Health, other local health departments, hospitals, clinicians, and other medical providers to proactively identify and aggressively respond to any possible cases of novel coronavirus,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Our ultimate goal is to identify and contain any illnesses to prevent the spread of disease. We understand there is a lot of interest, but there are still many unknowns with this novel virus and the situation is rapidly evolving. As we learn more, and when cases are confirmed, we will make sure to share that information.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health, Chicago Department of Public Health, and Cook County Department of Public Health are working in tandem to identify any close contacts who may have been exposed after the patient returned from China. Additionally, a CDC team has also been deployed to support the ongoing investigation, including tracing close contacts to determine if anyone else has become ill.

The patient returned to the U.S. from Wuhan on January 13, prior to the implementation of screening procedures at five U.S. airports, including the addition of O’Hare International Airport earlier this week. However, the City has been working closely with the CDC and other federal, state and local agencies, including the Department of Aviation (CDA) and the Chicago Fire Department, to proactively prepare for local cases since learning of the outbreak.

"The Chicago Department of Aviation has no higher priority than the safety and well-being of the traveling public, as well our airport community. From the moment information came to light about this particular strain of coronavirus, CDA’s safety and security team has been closely monitoring the situation and interfacing with our federal and public health partners," CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said. "As always, we want to be sure we’re able to support any special efforts related to the coronavirus, while at the same time maintaining normal operations -- and that has happened. In addition to our valued travelers, we are working hard to ensure the tens of thousands of individuals who make their living at O'Hare airport have the most up-to-date information on the coronavirus, as well as ongoing efforts to keep the public and our airport family safe."

Chinese authorities first identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in hundreds of confirmed human infections in China and exported cases in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the United States. On Tuesday, January 21, the CDC confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus in the United States in the state of Washington. The patient was also a traveler who had recently returned from Wuhan.

Coronaviruses are a class of respiratory viruses that range from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS and MERS. They can cause fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. Coronaviruses are generally spread via droplets in the air, like when people cough and sneeze, similar to the common cold.

It is currently undetermined whether there is a limited person-to-person spread or if there is a possibility of animal-to-person spread.

There are no additional precautions recommended for the general public to take. However, as a reminder, CDPH always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

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