Updated: Springfield Official Has COVID-19; Two City Council Members Exposed

Mar 15, 2020

This post has been updated with a new statement from Lisa Badger.

Lisa Badger, a member of the Springfield Park District Board, confirmed she tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in a statement released to NPR Illinois Sunday.

She released a separate statement Monday asking for privacy and that people stop contacting her. She said she has received calls, emails, Facebook messages, including threats to sue her and comments aimed at her daughter.

“I understand everyone is scared. I’m scared, too,” her statement reads. “But I’ve done nothing wrong. I have taken every precaution possible, and I caught this from someone else. Now I need time to rest and recover without the overwhelming stress of so many personal attacks and accusations.”

She emphasized that she did not have symptoms when she attended large public gatherings, including a career fair at Lincoln Land Community College on March 11 as part of her work with the Illinois Treasurer’s office.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people can spread the virus when they are not showing symptoms, such as a cough, but it is not the main way the virus spreads. People are most contagious when they are exhibiting symptoms.

Badger said people who are concerned about the spread of the virus should contact the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.

The department and four local health providers wrote in their joint update Sunday: “If you have had limited contact with a person under quarantine, you do not have to go into quarantine yourself, but you should stay away from others as much as possible. ‘Limited contact’ is defined as being at least six feet apart from the quarantined person for 10 minutes to up to two hours. If you have had contact with an individual under isolation, you should be quarantined.”

Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso and Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley say they’ve had contact with her in the last week and are now self-quarantining. They were both informed Saturday night by the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.

Badger is one of three confirmed cases in Sangamon County. The other two are patients at Memorial Medical Center: a Florida woman and a resident of another county whose case was reported on Sunday evening.

Badger started feeling symptoms March 4, but did not contact her physician until March 12, the day after her fever, body ache and cough became severe. She was tested that day and again on Friday, March 13, she said in the statement. A nurse from the Sangamon County Department of Public Health called her Saturday night with the positive results for COVID-19.

“As I have not been out of the country, or had any known contact with someone who has been out of the country, or had direct contact with someone who has tested positive, it can only be assumed that I received the [COVID-19] virus through community spread,” she said.

Badger said she’s disappointed with people who are not taking the risks seriously and urged everyone to stay home and practice proper hygiene. She also said she had been to a number of recent local events, including last weekend’s Springfield Women’s March.

Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner said she might have been exposed as well, though she did not get a call from the health department. She said she plans to stay home as much as possible. Democratic Congressional candidate Betsy Dirksen Londrigan also announced she is self-quarantining for two weeks.

Compassion And Caution

Conley, who is a friend of Badger’s, said going public was a difficult decision for the park board member.

“She’s the name now that people are connecting with this and that’s not fun,” Conley said. “But for all we know we’ve been exposed to other people (who are infected).”

Conley urged compassion and caution in the face of the crisis.

Badger lamented the lack of testing available in Springfield. Sangamon County health officials have said there are enough tests for those who fit the criteria set out by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But experts say those criteria are much too narrow for proper disease surveillance, and local hospital officials want to expand testing.

Conley and DiCenso said they got calls Saturday evening from the county health department. Both said they were not instructed to quarantine – but will be staying home and limiting contact with others.

County health officials said they can’t comment on specific cases. But they pointed to guidelines they’re using for advice on isolation and quarantine. The guidelines include the length of time the person may have been in contact with an infected individual, said Dr. Brian Miller, chair of the county health board. He said if a person doesn’t meet the criteria, they’re not instructed to self-quarantine.

Still, Conley, whose day job is at the Illinois Department of Public Health in the legal office, said she was instructed by her supervisor to stay home and limit going out. DiCenso, who works at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said she got similar instruction from her employer.

DiCenso said it was “an awful feeling” knowing she might have spread it to other people.

“I’m not panicking, even though I’ve been exposed. But it is a big deal, and I think we need to treat it as such,” she said.

In an effort to protect others, both said they plan to participate in the Springfield City Council meeting by phone on Tuesday, rather than in-person.

Through Conley, Badger said she was too ill to speak on the phone. But in her statement, she emphasized that she’s recovering and she worried about the woman in critical condition at Memorial, noting the more severe impact coronavirus disease can have on people who are elderly or have certain preexisting health problems. She also asked people to respect her privacy as she recovers.

Criticism Over Bar-Hop And Mixed Messaging

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Langfelder is facing sharp criticism over his decision to go to two downtown bars Saturday for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Conley said she was “dismayed.”

“When you have something that's extreme, it's time to take leadership and show what it means to be restrained, what it means to be social distancing,” she said. She said she hates the impact COVID-19 is having on small businesses, but planned to buy gift cards to support them.

Turner was also unhappy with the mayor, and said he could have spent the time addressing the crisis and communicating with citizens and others about what the city is doing to address it, instead of going out.

“The message was definitely in conflict with what we're hearing from the governor, and what we're hearing from health professionals,” she said. “This is a time of crisis and in a crisis we need leadership to lead.”

Days earlier Langfelder and St. Patrick’s Day parade organizers called off Saturday’s main event over concerns about spreading the novel coronavirus. The decision came after Gov. J.B. Pritzker encouraged him to cancel, though Langfelder’s administration said the governor’s call did not determine the move.

At Pritzker’s press briefings Saturday and Sunday, he expressed frustration over people in Chicago attending St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

“I tried to appeal to everyone’s good judgment to stay home, to avoid bars, not to congregate in crowds. It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over. The time for action is here. This is not a joke,” Pritzker said. He instituted rules to close all bars and dining-in at restaurants for two weeks.

On Sunday, Langfelder defended the move, pointing out that the guidance from local health officials was to stay home if you’re feeling sick and wash your hands properly. He also said the topic everyone wanted to talk about was the new virus, and he talked about the need for proper hygiene.

“Some needed reassurance as far as you know, what to expect, but nobody really knows what to expect,” he said. “They appreciate you coming out of course.”

Langfelder said the recommendations have been evolving and he followed the ones in effect at the time, noting that the crowds had fewer than 250 people, the limit the county put in place last week.

“I'm not going to cast blame. If they want to point fingers at me, that's fine,” he said. “ What needs to happen is everybody coming together, which we've been doing, coordinating people, bringing them together, so we can address this as one community.”

City Emergency

In a note to the city council and mayor, DiCenso called for a state of emergency, which she said could include curfews, closure of nonessential city offices and remote work policies for city employees.

“That is not panic. That is common sense,” she wrote.

She has some support. Conley, Turner and Ward 5 Ald. Andrew Proctor agreed this could help the city make policy changes to encourage social distancing and self-quarantining.

Langfelder said he’s open to discussing a state of emergency similar to the one Champaign instituted, which gave the mayor broad powers to act in a time of crisis, including spending authority and ability to make rules about personnel.

Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan and Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath said the council should discuss the matter and follow advice from public health officials on the whether or not to call an emergency.