Coronavirus concerns spark event cancellations, university policy changes around Chicago area

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak caused a number of event cancellations and tough decisions for organizations and universities in the Chicago area.

Most the moves were made in what appears to be an abundance of caution.

Sunday's "Fight for Air" climb, a popular cancer fundraiser, has been canceled. Organizers said the host sponsor, Presidential Towers, made the decision after they said the building's residents were concerned about extra people in the building.

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The Modern Business Experience, which was scheduled to be held at McCormick Place from March 24 through 26, has also been canceled. It was expected to draw about 6,000 people. It is the second convention to pull the plug after the Inspired Home Show announced it would not go on this year as planned.

Chicago State University announced its men's basketball team will not travel to Washington or Utah Valley for two scheduled conference games this week.

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Events have been canceled and area colleges are taking precautionary measures as novel coronavirus concerns in Chicago continue.

And on Wednesday morning, Northwestern University said it will cancel all sponsored spring break trips to international destinations.

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Additionally, a Dominican University student in River Forest was exposed to COVID-19 but did not test positive for the virus, school officials said.

Local health officials provided an update on the outbreak Wednesday afternoon, saying the immediate risk remains low.

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Local health officials provided an update on the outbreak Wednesday afternoon, saying the immediate risk remains low.

"It is cold and flu season, we have a lot of folks here sick in Chicago, and we are doing a good job of increasing the ability to also test for coronavirus where that is appropriate," Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Arwady said Illinois is especially well prepared to weather an increase in coronavirus cases because test kits are ample and public health officials last summer practiced responding to the scenario of the arrival of a new virus from China.

"We have had an operation up and running to respond to this challenge for quite some time, and I think if we need to scale up we will be prepared and ready to do so," she said.

The city is spending $150,000 per week on increased public health monitoring and response, money it hopes to recoup from the federal government.

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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.

City officials continued to stress that handwashing and not going to school or work if you are symptomatic are the key actions people can take to fend off the coronavirus. But the heightened vigilance is here to stay for longer than just when the weather warms up.

"I do think this is likely to be a long response, I think it is likely that we are probably heading toward vaccination, and if we are heading toward vaccination that is something that takes more than a year," Arwady said.

Arwady said there are no thresholds to determine if and when schools might close, but Chicago Public Schools sent a letter home to parents urging them to keep sick children home. They also said any student found to be ill will be sent home immediately.

CPS said absences due to respiratory illness will be excused.

Health officials said they would not rule out closing schools if they need to, but said a lot would have to happen before they consider that option. In fact, research shows children, in general, appear to be less susceptible to infection by COVID-19 than adults.


There are four confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois. A patient at the University of Chicago Medical Center tested negative for COVID-19 Tuesday night, hospital staff said. That person would have been the fifth case had the tested positive.

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The two most recent confirmed cases are a husband and wife. The man is being treated at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. How he was infected is unclear, but he then spread it to his wife. She is in isolation at home. Both are in good condition.

"We're all conducting interviews, working with the hospital administration to identify all the potential close contacts," said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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The first two cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, also a husband and wife, have both made a full recovery, health officials said.

The World Health Organization said COVID-19 appears to spread less efficiently than the flu, but causes more severe illness than the flu. Transmission is driven by people who are showing symptoms.

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Rush University has launched a virtual visit portal for patients concerned they may have symptoms of COVID-19.

Those concerned that a cough could mean novel coronavirus can now talk to a doctor in minutes with the launch of the Rush Medical Center Virtual Visit Portal for COVID-19.

"When a coronavirus case came about we thought it would be good to offer the service of patients to be able to do kind of a self-triage, leverage the technology for patients to be able to access their risk for coronavirus," said Dr. Paul Case, Rush Medical Center chief medical officer.

The hospital, which was already using its video visit platform to treat illnesses like the flu, sore throats, and other conditions, began offering diagnosis for the highly infectious virus, which has symptoms including upper respiratory infection, fever and cough.
The process is simple: You go to the portal, answer questions about the symptoms you have, if you've had exposure to someone with COVID-19 or been to a country where they have infections. If you answer yes to all of those questions, then you have a video consult with an ER doctor.

Rush has special isolation rooms and ambulance bays, along with procedures to treat infectious diseases. The medical center was among the 35 special sites designated by the Centers for Disease Control following the Ebola outbreak of 2014.

ER physician Dr. Meeta Shah heads the virtual visit team, and said the online visits are a good first defense.

"It gives them a level of comfort as well, and convenience, while at the same time protecting the public," she said.

People deemed at risk are then given a plan to safely get them to in-person treatment.

Rush officials said they are following CDC and local health care agencies' guidance on this as they, like everyone, hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

"We should have the capacity by the end of the week to have kits available to the laboratories to perform about a million tests," Hahn said.

Seven domestic fatalities have also been reported, all of which occurred in Washington state.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has 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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