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Pritzker: COVID-19 risk is low, but officials prepared

Updated

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The risk of contracting potentially deadly COVID-19 in Illinois remains low, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday as Chicago’s mayor and state and city health officials joined him to detail the steps they’re taking to halt the new virus.

A respiratory illness caused by the a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 was first spotted in China and has spread to virtually every continent. Illinois has had two reported cases. Patients in both have recovered and returned home, Pritzker said.

“While the risk to the general public remains low, we want you to know that our state and local agencies and officials are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the public health and safety are well-guarded,” Pritzker said at the Chicago news conference.

The state will add labs outside Cook County next week, Pritzker said, in central and southern Illinois, capable of testing for the virus. And voluntary testing at hospitals to gather statistics about the virus’ spread will begin in Illinois, as in other populous states, as recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The best advice for residents, Pritzker said, is observing “with renewed vigilance” well-known precautions against the flu: Wash hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick, and clean surfaces that are touched frequently.

And it’s not too late to get a flu shot, added Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state public health director. Fewer cases of flu mean more available medical treatment, if needed, for COVID-19.

The state’s public health and emergency response agencies have been conducting simulated responses to potential outbreaks, Pritzker said.

“We’re ready to put the full weight of the state behind a full-fledged response when needed if we meet those thresholds,” Pritzker said. “This is a situation that has demonstrated an ability to evolve rapidly. And it’s my priority that as the information changes, that you will have all of the available information that we can give you.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said officials have worked with federal authorities to screen international passengers arriving at city airports. She said she’s had frequent conversations with mayors of major cities to share action plans and learn from one another to develop a coordinated, nationwide response.

That’s something Alicia Tate-Nadeau, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said is happening state-to-state as well, which also could help identify trends or disease movement.

“There’s really no cause for alarm …,” Lightfoot said. “Our residents should continue to enjoy the city and its neighborhoods, particularly Chinatown and its amenities, as they normally do. Fear cannot guide us. In this moment, thoughtfulness and preparedness are the rule of the day.”

Ezike, the public health director, said COVID-19 can cause mild illness in an otherwise healthy person but can be severe in the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. She said in every case in the U.S., including the two Illinois cases, the patients have recovered. There’s no vaccine or medical treatment for the illness, but she said they’re under development.

“Knowledge of the coronavirus increases every day,” Ezike said.

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COVID-19 information: 1-800-889-3931, or http://www.dph.illinois.gov/

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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