City leaders: take precautions to avoid flu

April 28, 2009 (CHICAGO) AP INTERACTIVE: More cases of swine flu around the world
STORY: What you need to know about swine flu
VIDEO: Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Terry Mason helps us sort it all out.

Officials held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon at Chicago's Office of Emergency Management. Health department officials were joined by officials from the public schools as the well as from the airport to talk about the flu outbreak.

Health officials stressed that there are no confirmed cases in the Chicago area. However, they fully expect to hear of some any time now. They are very busy answering phone calls, trying to give answers to the questions as well as making contingency plans.

"In the city we are seeing an outbreak of awareness. Hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices who might not normally test their patients for flu are doing so now," said Dr. Terry Mason, Chicago health commissioner.

A number of city departments are involved in plans, including the public schools. They're closely monitoring attendance patterns to determine whether a specific area may need to be tested. So far no specific area has needed to be tested. They're also questioning those who call in sick to determine whether they have symptoms of the swine flu.

At O'Hare officials have a medic set up in terminal two as well as a quarantine center. Both of those are in use year round. They have no cases of the swine flu so far and no plans to test incoming passengers from Mexico.

"You hope they are armed with the knowledge to do the right things. Thus far people are doing the right things and I don't think there is any reason to force anybody to do anything at this time," said Dr. Mason.

Border patrol agents are meeting flights from Mexico and handing out information about the swine flu to any of the passengers coming in from Mexico and making that information available to passengers coming in from other countries on other flights.

Chicago's response to the swine flu outbreak is education and preparedness.

The city's Office of Emergency Planning and Communication set up a phone bank to answer questions. It's receiving a steady stream of calls and Chicago's health commissioner is urging people to take precautions.

"Cover your cough. Cover your sneeze. Use facial tissues and discard them properly, wash your hands properly with soap and water, and teach these good habits to your children. If you're sick, stay home and get better," said Dr. Mason.

Flu affects travel

The flu's impact on travel is expanding.

Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled all port stops in Mexico through May 4.

Other companies are still traveling there but are trying to ease passenger worries by emphasizing how thoroughly the ships are cleaned.

And in Chicago, travel agents are busy rescheduling customers who had booked trips to Mexico. Many will be going to Jamaica instead.

On Monday, the State Department issued an alert urging Americans to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico until July 27.

Safety precautions taken

Safety precautions are being taken at Wednesday's soccer game when the Chicago Fire takes on Mexico's Club America team in Bridgeview.

Hand sanitizers will be available throughout Toyota Park for spectators and players.

Members of the Club America team arrived from Mexico on Monday night. They are all said to be healthy and excited for Wednesday's match.

Meantime, the Mexican Civic Society of Illinois is canceling Wednesday's start of the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Navy Pier. No specific reason was given.

The group is holding a joint press conference on Wednesday morning with members of the Mexican Consulate.

Couple decides not to marry in Mexico due to flu

A couple from the Chicago area was supposed to get married in Mexico this weekend. But because of the outbreak, they're trying to make plans to hold their wedding here instead on Saturday.

It was to be a dream wedding for Eric and his fiancée DeAwna on the beach at Puerto Vallarta. They'd been planning the wedding for the last six months. Then the swine flu hit and suddenly everything changed.

"You have to sort of weigh what's more important, you know? I mean it's more important that our family and friends are safe and it's more important that we don't come back sick," said DeAwna McGinley, bride-to-be.

The State Department has issued a travel advisory to Mexico, warning against all nonessential travel.

For travelers going to Mexico the swine flu outbreak has caused a lot of hassle and in some cases money. The couple had already paid almost everything for the wedding and are told not to expect a refund. They are scrambling to try to put together an alternate ceremony in Chicago in five days.

"We don't have anything. We don't have a location, food, flowers. I have a dress. Eric has a suit and we have friends and we have family," said McGinley.

McGinley says even if they just go to the courthouse and get married by a justice of the piece, they will go ahead with the wedding and that it is a good preparation for hardships during marriage.

Chicago clinics, hospitals see patients

There are no confirmed cases of swine flu in Chicago but people are visiting clinics and hospitals with health concerns related to the outbreak.

Estella Sanchez brought her five boys to the emergency room at Mount Sinai hospital on Tuesday. She's not feeling well and neither are her children. Doctors gave them all face masks as a precaution.

Sanchez visited Mexico last month.

On Tuesday, the waiting room was full at the Fantus Clinic that's run by Cook County. But a head doctor there says they've only been getting a few phone calls and visits at county clinics from people with questions related to swine flu.

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