CHICAGO - A special education classroom assistant with Chicago Public Schools has tested positive for coronavirus, city officials announced Friday night.
The female patient's positive test results must be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials said she is hospitalized in stable condition.
The infected CPS employee, who is a woman in her 50s and now the 6th coronavirus patient in Illinois, works at Vaughn Occupational High School in Portage Park. Classes next week have been canceled, city officials said.
Officials are working to find out whom the employee came in contact with after she was a passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in San Francisco in February, according to Illinois Department of Public Health officials. They added that the woman returned to work at CPS on Feb. 25 and the last time she was at work was March 2.
Currently, the Grand Princess is being held off the California coast, with 3,500 on board, after a passenger on its previous voyage died of the coronavirus and others became infected.
Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city contacted the woman after being notified by the federal government that a Chicago resident had been on the cruise ship.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot asserted at a news conference announcing the sixth case of coronavirus in Illinois that the risk to the public remains low, as public health officials emphasized the state is well-equipped to combat the disease.
“We know that viruses fly. They can come from wherever they are to new locations. We have to anticipate that we will see more,” said Illinois public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.
Vaughn Occupational serves students with cognitive disabilities and enrolls 212 students. Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said classes at the school will be canceled next week as a precaution. Jackson said staff that may have been exposed to the virus have been asked to self-quarantine at home for 14 days.
“As a specialty school for students with special needs and disabilities, we want to take all possible measures to ensure the health and well-being of these students is the first priority in conjunction with (public health),” Jackson said.
Also on Friday, the fifth confirmed coronavirus patient in Illinois was discharged from the hospital and allowed to go home to quarantine.
Last weekend, an Arlington Heights couple became the third and fourth people in Illinois to be confirmed as having the virus.
On Monday, a patient suspected of having coronavirus at the University of Chicago Medical Center tested negative for the disease.
On Wednesday, it was announced that a Public Works Department employee is being monitored for COVID-19.
“The state of Illinois is working around the clock to contain COVID-19 and educate the public,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Public health officials anticipated there would be additional cases and we will continue to implement robust measures to contain the virus while also preparing for further transmission. The risk of COVID-19 to the general public in Illinois remains low, but we encourage the public to be vigilant and take extra care with the normal precautions you should take during flu season.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have announced plans to expand testing for the virus even as they said that the risk to the public was low. COVID-19 is most dangerous to people who are older than 60 or who have underlying medical conditions.
“The risk to the general public remains low but we are not taking any chances and preparing for all eventualities,” Pritzker said Thursday during a news conference at the state Capitol before he briefed lawmakers in a nearby state auditorium. “Given this virus’ intensified influence on the elderly, we are paying urgent attention to our nursing homes, our veterans homes and long term care facilities, as well as to the employees who serve those vulnerable populations.”
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The state has four labs to test for the virus, which was discovered in China late last year and now has spread to virtually every continent. The labs have allowed the state to act aggressively on such “presumptive positive” results and treat the illness, state public health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. The two most recent cases in Illinois fall in that category and are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the state is working with hospitals in Chicago and elsewhere to conduct so-called voluntary surveillance testing. Test results from patients who are sick but test negative for influenza would be assessed at the state labs.
“This surveillance will help us to determine if the virus is circulating in the community, and to what extent,” Ezike said. “With that information, we can tailor our response and better protect the health of all of our citizens.”
Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau suggested that people carefully consider foreign travel. The CDC currently advises avoiding non-essential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.
The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to 14, with all but one victim being in Washington state. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 100,000 people and killed over 3,400, the vast majority of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those infected have recovered.
Associated Press contributed to this report.