Novel coronavirus risk remains low in Chicago, health officials say; testing expanding across state

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined health officials Friday to provide an update to the state and city's response to the novel coronavirus.

The first thing officials want people to know is that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is still considered low in Illinois, but they assured the public they are prepared in the case the risk increases.

"I want to be clear," Pritzker said at a press conference, "the best thing the general public can do at this time is continue with the same precautions that you take during flu season."

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Pritzker and other leaders, including public health officials, said they have been meeting for several weeks to prepare for COVID-19.

Pritzker said the state would expand testing beyond Cook County to include labs in central and southern Illinois.

The state will also partner with hospitals in all regions to engage in voluntary testing, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Select patents present with influenza-like symptoms will soon be tested for COVID-19.

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Illinois has had two confirmed cases of COVID-19. Officials said that both the man and woman who were previously diagnosed with coronavirus have made a full recovery.

"Number one, the risk is low," said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. "The level of preparedness is very high, and in the event we need to scale up our efforts we are uniquely qualified to do so."

In the meantime, many organizations hosting large events in the state are taking precautions. At C2E2, going on Friday through Sunday at the convention center in Rosemont, organizers are encouraging frequent hand washing and other precautions.

WATCH: How to properly wash your hands

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Dr. Mark Loafman, chairman of Family Medicine at Cook County Health, explains the proper technique and duration for washing your hands to prevent the spread of illnesses. Scrubbing should continue for at least 20 seconds, which happens to be the amount of time it takes to hum the"Happy Birthday" song twice.

The Inspired Home Show, which was scheduled to be held at McCormick Place in March, have canceled one of the five expos at the show because the presenters would have to travel from China.

"Recognizing the difficulty in travel between China and the U.S., we made the decision not to open this year," said organizer Leana Salamah.

The Illinois Department of Public Health as created a hotline at 1-800-889-3931. More information can be found at the IDPH website and the Chicago Department of Public Health website.

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During the period of Lent the Joliet Archdiocese is taking precautions to protect clergy and parishioners from the novel coronavirus.

Concerns about the new coronavirus are prompting changes at Catholic churches in Chicago and the state of Illinois for the safety of clergy and parishioners.

During the season of Lent, the Joliet Diocese is encouraging anyone who feels sick to avoid mass. They are also suspending the traditional peace handshake and sharing of consecrated wine at communion, telling parishioners in an email "because of unknown dimensions of this virus and its rapid spreading world-wide, prudence and prayer are called for."

"It's probably good for us to be cautious at this point and see what's going on with the coronavirus, and better safe than sorry," said Paul Peterson, parishioner.

"Well, I think it's a great way to handle something that hopefully will not become a serious problem," said Gary Vician, parishioner.

So far, the Chicago Archdiocese is not making those same changes the Joliet Diocese is instituting but is encouraging all parishioners to wash their hands frequently


The effects of COVID-19 are being felt in Chicago's Chinatown.

Chinese Consul General Zhao Jian spoke with ABC7 Eyewitness News Friday about the situation in China.

"There are more and more people who have been cured and discharged from the hospital," he said. "Seeing many of the good signs, still, the situation in Wuhan City is still quite serious."

Jian has been in Chicago for a year, and since the outbreak of COVID-19 he is concerned about the impact on Chinese-Americans and Chinese citizens in our area.

"Sometimes the panic is more dangerous and harmful than the disease, so we don't really need the fearmongering and those kind of things," Jian said.

As the CDC and local health officials emphasis there is no crisis in the Chicago area, the Consul General said business has been impacted in Chinatown and some have reported discrimination.

"We have to fight against the virus and at the same time maintain normal business and economic and social development, so the business is very important," he said.

Zhao Jian plans to stay in touch with local business owners not only for updates on COVID-19 but for a plan to welcome back patrons to Chinatown.

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The stock market continued its fall Friday amid global concerns about the novel coronavirus spreading.

The financial effects of the Chinese coronavirus ripple far beyond Chinatown. The stock market had its worst weekly performance since 2008 as the panic over the global spread of the novel coronavirus causes investors to bail.

"Uncertainty is the enemy of the stock market, and this is now a much more uncertain world than when we went to sleep on Friday of last week than Friday of this week," said Diane Swonk, economist with Grant Thornton Chied.

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Swonk said news the news of the virus spreading to countries like Italy and Iran drove the market down; she called it an economic pandemic. Efforts to contain the virus, such as shutting pants down, quarantines, and canceling flights and conferences, are all having a huge impact on the economy, especially since China is such an important part of it. And that's not just about the products the U.S. imports.

"We also rely on Chinese consumers to buy a lot of our stuff, everyone from Nike to Apple to Adidas," Swonk said.

That leaves Americans worrying over their 401Ks and stock portfolios. But while it has been dramatic, financial advisors say don't panic.

"Stay the course, trust the fundamentals of the economy are still in good shape," said Pat Biladeau, Cresset Financial Advisor.

He advised his clients to focus on the long-term. He said based on past epidemics, the market will bounce back.

"The negative market reaction can take anywhere from 30 trading days to 140 to persist, but when you look out one or two years the market in all cases is positive," he said.
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