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Illinois man who went to Italy is state’s 5th COVID-19 case

March 5, 2020 GMT
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Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau, left, and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois public health director, center, listen as Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers a question about the state's response to COVID-19, Thursday, March 5, 2020 at the Illinois state Capitol. (AP Photo/John O'Connor)
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Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau, left, and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Illinois public health director, center, listen as Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers a question about the state's response to COVID-19, Thursday, March 5, 2020 at the Illinois state Capitol. (AP Photo/John O'Connor)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Officials on Thursday confirmed a fifth case of COVID-19 in Illinois, though Gov. J.B. Pritzker tried to reassure the public that the chances of a widespread outbreak of the potentially deadly illness were low.

A man in his 20s from Cook County, which is home to Chicago, contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus while traveling in Italy and is isolated at a Chicago hospital in stable condition, Pritzker said during a news conference at a state Capitol. COVID-19 is most dangerous to people who are older than 60 or who have underlying medical conditions.

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“The risk to the general public remains low but we are not taking any chances and preparing for all eventualities,” Pritzker said 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.”

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state public health director, said that in the case of the man who traveled to Italy, all who have been in contact with him are being contacted for assessment.

Illinois’ first two cases, a husband and wife, have both recovered. Ezike noted that the third and fourth cases, confirmed last weekend, are a Cook County couple in their 70s. Neither traveled overseas but both recently visited California. Ezike said officials don’t know whether the man, who showed symptoms first, contracted the illness there or in Illinois. Both are in home isolation and recovering.

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, 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.”

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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.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor: https://twitter.com/apoconnor