Illinois Governor J.B. Pritkzer and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tried to calm fears over the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak on Friday. They said efforts are already underway to minimize Illinois’ exposure to the disease also known as novel coronavirus.
The virus started as an outbreak in China and has sickened more than 82,000 people worldwide, including two in Illinois, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. The two cases involved a Chinese couple in Chicago, and both have fully recovered.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised concern this week that the U.S. would likely face an increasing number of coronavirus cases, due in part to the ongoing spread of the disease in parts of Europe and Asia.
The governor and mayor, meanwhile, stood with public health and emergency preparedness experts who said they are ready to combat the virus.
Though those same officials said the infection risk to Illinoisans is low right now, Pritzker said no one is leaving anything to chance.
“We want you to know that our state and local agencies and officials are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the public’s health and safety are well-guarded,” the governor told a group of reporters in Chicago.
The state is using the Department of Public Health’s hotline and email service to field reports of suspected cases, and staff at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said they are training for the unlikely event of an outbreak.
Pritzker and others have stressed the regular flu virus is the greater danger to Illinoisans right now. But Illinois Public Health director Ngozi Ezike explained being ready for other diseases like coronavirus can help keep the most residents safe.
"We have to plan and prepare for all possibilities. Please be confident that IDPH will communicate quickly and transparently if there are any changes in the risk level," Ezike said.
Chicago has dispatched at least 100 public health staff to help screen travelers at O’Hare International Airport, a likely point of entry for the virus.
Mayor Lightfoot said despite heightened anxiety about coronavirus, there’s no reason to panic.
“The risk is low, the level of preparedness is very high, and in the event that we need to scale up our efforts, we are uniquely qualified to do so,” she said.
The National Institutes of Health this week said a clinical trial for an antiviral drug that could combat the novel coronavirus is ongoing at the University of Nebraska.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends frequently washing hands, covering coughs, and self-quarantining if you or someone you know is sick.