Updated 9:50 p.m. Saturday, March 14
On Saturday evening, Sangamon County health officials announced there are two confirmed cases of coronavirus disease in Springfield.
They’re among the first six cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Illinois outside the Chicago area.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, meanwhile, made a plea for Illinoisans to stay home — particularly the young and healthy — to prevent further spread of the disease.
One Springfield patient is a 71-year-old woman who is in the Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Medical Center. The other is a Sangamon County resident who is at home.
The woman arrived in Springfield by plane from Florida on March 7. Medical officials believe she contracted the disease from her son, who recently traveled to Switzerland and has tested positive as well. He is at a facility in Florida. The woman began experiencing symptoms Thursday and went to Memorial Medical Center.
Her condition deteriorated and she was put in intensive care, according to Dr. Raj Govindaiah, Memorial Health Systems’ chief medical officer. The test for COVID-19 came back positive Saturday.
Govindaiah said the health system informed the Illinois Department of Public Health about the woman’s air travel and that it’s the department's responsibility to contact the airline.
The Sangamon County Department of Public Health confirmed the second case also on Saturday afternoon. Department Director Gail O’Neill said the person is at home, self-isolating. Nurses with the health department are conducting interviews to find out how the person contracted the disease and who they’ve been in contact with.
That there were positive cases in the area was not surprising, said HSHS St. John’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gurpreet Mander.
“We did anticipate we'd have a positive test,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Now we have to see how we build up from here, the number of positive patients and our patients that have the active disease.”
Handwashing And Social Distancing
Dr. Brian Miller, chairman of the Sangamon County Health Board, said the new cases don’t change much the recommendations for residents; people should still be washing their hands regularly and practicing social distancing. The ban on large public gatherings is still in effect, but the limit for outdoor events is now the same as indoor events at 250 people, down from 500.
Miller also emphasized that people who think they may have been exposed to the virus should call their health care provider or the county health department first, before going to the emergency room. The number for the county is (217) 321-2606.
This approach will ensure that emergency rooms aren’t overwhelmed, and more people aren’t exposed to the virus, Miller said.
Officials from both Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s Hospital said their facilities have been preparing for an outbreak. The two facilities re-purposed units of the hospitals with negative-pressure rooms for patients with COVID-19 that will limit the spread of the disease.
“The number of people getting sick and being exposed is going to go up. What we're trying to do is slow it down,” Miller said. “If everyone gets sick all at once, it will overwhelm the system. And that's why we want to limit exposure, delay exposure.”
Even a person who does not have flu-like symptoms but has been exposed to the disease can spread it. Govindaiah used the example of the 71-year-old woman who likely contracted the disease from her son.
“You may feel fine, but you can infect other people. That is how this individual got infected. Her son felt fine. They spent two hours in a car together. She got sick,” Govindaiah said.
Both Memorial and St. John’s officials said they’ve contracted with companies to get additional test kits. However, testing is still restricted in the county.
“Tests are being limited to people who need them rather than people who want them at this point,” said Dr. Vidya Sundareshan, who specializes in infectious diseases and serves on the health board.
Officials said they’re still following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and testing would be limited to those who have had direct exposure to someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 or traveled to places such as China or Italy.
Other COVID-19 Cases Reported Near Peoria And St. Louis
The Illinois Department of Public Health on Saturday announced an additional 18 cases of coronavirus disease across Illinois, including the first four confirmed cases downstate.
Two were men in their 70s — one from Woodford County, near Peoria, and one from Cumberland County, near Effingham and about an hour south of Champaign.
The remaining downstate cases were two women in St. Clair County — one in her 60s, the other in her 70s.
Gov. Pritzker To Illinoisans: Stay Home
In his daily COVID-19 briefing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said too many people are ignoring public health guidelines to stay home.
“We saw a lot of crowds out and about today, and I need to be frank: We can have a massive, positive effect on bending the transmission curve, if people will take this seriously.”
Pritzker says young and healthy people, in particular, need to follow social distancing guidelines.
“Listen up,” Pritzker said. “You may only have mild symptoms for a few days and may think that you’re just fine, but you could have the unintended tragic effect of spreading COVID-19 to others who may be more vulnerable.”
Earlier this week, Pritzker banned gatherings of more than a thousand people, urged people to cancel gatherings of more than 250, and ordered all of Illinois’ schools closed for at least two weeks, from Tuesday, March 17 through Monday, March 30.