Couple in Hoffman Estates hospital are first U.S. case of person-to-person coronavirus spread

Health officials confirmed Thursday that the first U.S. case of person-to-person transmission of coronavirus has occurred between a Chicago woman and her husband, who are both now receiving care in a Hoffman Estates hospital.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the husband had been monitored for novel coronavirus since Jan. 23, when his wife, in her 60s, became the first confirmed case in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.

Arwady said laboratory test results Wednesday night from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the husband, also in his 60s, contracted the virus. He previously had symptoms and had been in isolation before the CDC confirmed the diagnosis.

The man was in stable condition Thursday, and Arwady stressed there is no threat to the public.

“We know coronaviruses are most likely to spread through close personal contact,” she said at a news conference. “And we know that this new patient had close contact with his wife after she began to develop symptoms. So, it's not totally unexpected that he acquired the virus.”

Arwady said the woman, who was admitted to Amita St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, has been in isolation primarily for infection control and “is doing well.”

Her husband also has been admitted to St. Alexius, said Olga Solares, associate vice president of communications and media relations at the hospital.

“Both patients are being monitored in isolation at our hospital in accordance with established infection control protocols and with guidance from the CDC,” Solares said in a statement. “The health and safety of patients and associates are always our top priorities. We have in place strict infection control precautions and protocols established by the CDC to protect patients, associates and visitors. Our infection control specialists also work closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health.”

Officials said the Chicago woman — but not her husband — had been in China's Wuhan region where the coronavirus outbreak occurred earlier this month. She arrived home, landing at O'Hare International Airport, on Jan. 13 and started developing symptoms three to four days later, officials said.

Health care workers in the cases for the husband and wife are being monitored, along with their close contacts, Arwady said.

“We continue to gather information and clarify details, but we know already that just like his wife, he has not, for example, taken the L,” she said. “He has not attended any large gatherings.”

The dangerous viral infection can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia, health officials said. It has sickened thousands, mostly in China, and killed dozens.

Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said officials are keeping tabs on more potential cases.

“Currently in Illinois, there are 21 individuals who are considered persons under investigation,” Ezike said. “We could see more cases of individuals that have had close contact, but I still want to reassure the public we are actively monitoring these individuals and implementing transmission precautions to minimize the risk of spread.”

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth released a joint statement after the CDC confirmed the second case in Illinois and the sixth in the country.

“As with the first case, we are thankful to our local medical personnel for identifying this case quickly, swiftly acting to limit exposure and providing immediate care,” the senators said. “We continue to be in the earliest stages of measuring the impact of coronavirus, but we — as well as our public health agencies — are taking it very seriously. We will remain in close contact with them as they work to address this situation.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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