Nearly 200 possibly exposed to COVID-19 after outbreak in Lake County adult volleyball league

GAGES LAKE, Ill. (WLS) -- An outbreak of COVID-19 at a north suburban volleyball league may have exposed nearly 200 people to the virus in September, health officials said Tuesday.

So far, 14 positive cases were traced to people who played or watched league volleyball at Jesse Oaks Food & Drink in Gages Lake, the Lake County Health Department said in a statement Tuesday.

"This could potentially be a large outbreak, and we need the public's help to contain the spread of this virus," Dr. Sana Ahmed, medical epidemiologist at the health department, said. "Since last week we have identified approximately 14 individuals infected with COVID-19 that are linked to Jesse Oakes in Gages Lake."

Dr. Ahmed said the county's contact tracing is still counting a lot more potential patients.

"Right now we are up to nearly 200 people that might have been exposed," she said.

Lake County health officials said the confirmed COVID-19 patients were both playing and watching volleyball games, then intermingling with staff and other patrons, may without masks. It was enough to alarm some customers.

"We came here and we thought everybody had to wear a mask so we wore a mask. I have a 3-year-old, so she wore a mask too," said Alexis Rivera, customer. "It was just surprising to see the coworkers and people hugging each other and playing and pretending like nothing was happening, and I'm like, 'We have to go.'"

Jesse Oaks has voluntarily suspended volleyball for 14 days, and may only resume once in compliance with state guidelines, said Larry Mackey, director of environmental health at the health department.

State guidelines limit volleyball games to intra-team gameplay, which excludes competitive team-versus-team games, Mackey said in an interview.

Health officials believe Jesse Oaks was violating those rules before the outbreak, Mackey said. The restaurant was not cited or fined.

The restaurant, 18490 W. Old Gages Lake Rd., has three bars, four outdoor and two indoor volleyball courts, according to its website.

Of the confirmed cases, multiple people said they also played volleyball at other bar or restaurant locations, which may have spread the virus further, the health department said in its release.

The owner of Jesse Oaks released a statement, saying, "We have worked with Lake County Health Department on the outbreak. Any specific questions please refer to them. A speedy recovery to those who are infected. Our entire staff and their families have not shown any symptoms or signs of the virus."

An employee who answered the restaurant's phone Tuesday said indoor and outdoor restaurant seating remains open.

As of Monday, 16,960 Lake County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, while 464 have died.

The positivity rate in Lake County has dropped more than percentage point since the end of August, from 5.6% to 4.4% on Sept. 26. Still, health officials said this outbreak is a reason to not let "pandemic fatigue" spread.

"People are tired of hearing about it so much and we can't lose sight of the fact that the virus is still circulating in our community and people are still getting sick," said Ahmed.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report
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