CHICAGO (CBS) -- Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday issued a formal disaster declaration as health officials confirmed four new positive cases of novel coronavirus in Illinois, bringing the state's total number of COVID-19 cases to 11.
Pritzker said the disaster declaration would allow the state to deploy mobile support teams, request additional medical experts, ask for more support from the federal government, and maximize the amount of federal funding available to help fight and contain the disease in Illinois.
"To be clear, this declaration will build on an already robust response that has been developed over many months, and is well underway. We have one of the strongest public health systems in the nation, and we were among the first states able to test for COVID-19 because we knew to press for that capability," Pritzker said.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was also making a disaster declaration to open up additional resources to fight the virus.
"We're working together to take these steps, because we want to remain proactive to contain the spread of this virus," she said.
As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, city and state leaders said the chances of getting COVID-19 in Illinois remain low.
And in an effort to calm nerves, the governor said while it's understandable to feel anxious about trying to understand the spread of a new disease, he stressed his administration is prepared to monitor the disease and respond to the spread of the virus.
"I want folks to understand this is going to affect your daily life, but know that your city, your county, and your state officials are working hard to stay ahead of this, and to give you all the facts as soon as you know them," Pritzker said.
Pritzker said his administration is looking into the possibility of expanding state unemployment benefits to people who have been ordered into quarantine because of the novel coronavirus, to help them pay bills while they're missing any paychecks if they don't receive paid time off.
"I am very concerned about many people who either have to self-isolate, or have become ill and who have to take lots of time off work. Fourteen days is a long time for many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck," he said.
The governor also urged people not stop hoarding supplies, or to trying to purchase medical equipment like masks, which experts have not recommended for the general public to use to prevent being infected.
"You are keeping health care supplies from the workers who need them," he said.
The four new cases of COVID-19 identified on Monday include a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 70s, who are related to the state's sixth case, a Vaughn Occupational High School special education classroom assistant who had recently traveled on a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship.
The third new case is a California woman in her 50s who recently traveled to Illinois, and the fourth new case is a woman in her 70s who recently returned from an Egyptian cruise that has been linked to the novel coronavirus.
"While we continue to implement measures to reduce the spread of the virus, as we anticipated, we are starting to see more COVID-19 cases in Illinois," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "Although these most recent cases are close contacts to a confirmed case or have a history of
travel, we want people to prepare for the virus to spread in the community. The virus is not circulating widely in Illinois at this time, but we must prepare now to reduce the impact to our communities if it becomes widespread."
All four of the new cases are hospitalized in good condition, according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who said the growing number of positive cases is not a surprise, and is in many ways an example of the public health system working how it should.
"We were able to quickly identify these new cases, and act on this information by ensuring that these individuals received the medical care that they need, and were properly isolated to prevent further possible spread of the virus," Arwady said.
The state has three labs for testing for the coronavirus; one in Chicago, one in Springfield, and one in Carbondale.
To date, the state has conducted tests for coronavirus on 262 people – many of them linked to people who previously tested positive for COVID-19 – and 221 of those people have tested negative. Another 30 tests are still pending.
The governor said, in the interests of transparency, his office now will hold daily briefings on the virus to provide updates on positive cases, and efforts to contain the disease.
The state also has contacted nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state, requesting increased screenings for their staff to make sure they're not showing symptoms of the virus, recently traveled to a high-risk location, or have been told to be on home isolation, according to Ezike.
Arwady said health officials have had regular conversations about upcoming large-scale events, but have not recommended the cancellation of any mass gatherings such as St. Patrick's Day parades.
But talks are ongoing, and the elderly have been urged not to attend.
As Illinois primary Election Day approaches – it is on St. Patrick's Day, as it happens - polling places are being r-located from places like senior centers to shield the most vulnerable.
"We want to protect everyone best as we can," Pritzker said. "We also want everyone to vote."
The announcement of four new COVID-19 cases comes one day after health officials confirmed the state's seventh case of novel coronavirus, a Chicago man in his 60s, who was hospitalized in serious condition on Sunday. He is not linked to any travel or any earlier cases, making him possibly the first case of community transmission in Chicago.
Six other cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Illinois, including a Vaughn Occupational High School special education classroom assistant who tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday. The woman, who is in her 50s, had recently traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which has been idling off the coast of San Francisco with at least 21 people aboard infected with the novel coronavirus.
She is now in good condition, and the Chicago Department of Public Health has not identified anyone else from the school with serious illness or who has required hospitalization.
The school has been closed through March 18, and anyone who was at Vaughn at the same time as the woman after her return from the Grand Princess has been asked to stay home until March 18, unless they need medical care, or under the direction of the Chicago Department of Public Health. People who were not at the school do not have restrictions at this time, even if they have been in contact with someone who was at the school, she said.
Arwady said there has been no evidence so far of the virus spreading to any other staff or students at the school. While some who have shown virus symptoms have been tested, so far those tests have been negative.
Meantime, the Grand Princess arrived at the Port of Oakland on Monday. Federal and state officials were preparing Monday to receive thousands of people from the cruise ship. The more than 2,000 passengers will disembark under heavy military security, undergo medical examinations and then be transported to 14-day quarantine sites at four bases across the country.
Officials said the fifth patient is a Cook County resident in his 20s who flew into O'Hare International 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. Public health officials are identifying and contacting all close contacts," Illinois health officials said in a written statement.
A fourth person was diagnosed with the virus in the Chicago area at the end of February. Illinois' patient number four is a woman in her 70s who tested positive for COVID-19. She is now under at-home isolation and in good condition according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
She is married to patient number three. He is a man, also in his 70s, who tested positive over the weekend and is now in isolation at home after being treated Northwest Community Hospital. Illinois health officials said the third patient had traveled to states with the virus outbreak.
The two other cases were a couple who tested negative for the virus in February. The couple has been released from the hospital.
Also this weekend, officials said a woman who traveled from Italy to O'Hare International Airport, and then traveled from Chicago to St. Louis by Amtrak train Wednesday of last week, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
On its website, Amtrak said it had received a notification from St. Louis County, Missouri that a customer who has now tested positive for coronavirus traveled on Train 303 on Wednesday, March 4, using stations in both Chicago and St. Louis. It was not known Sunday night how the woman got between O'Hare and Union Station.
The customer did not have symptoms at the time, and was recovering at home as of Sunday, Amtrak said in a memo.
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