Puerto Rico added to Chicago’s emergency travel order as virus spreads through households

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Travelers arriving in Chicago from Puerto Rico will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days after the island was added to the city’s emergency travel order, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday.

“This is not a theoretical risk,” Arwady said. “We have more than five dozens of confirmed COVID cases here in Chicago among people who have traveled to states on our travel order.”

Starting August 7, residents or visitors arriving in Chicago from Puerto Rico will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Anyone found to violate the order could be fined $100 to $500 a day, up to $7,000 total. However, city officials concede they won’t be able to keep track of who is and isn’t following the rules.

At home in Chicago, the city’s hard-working Puerto Rican community is facing yet another threat. 

Community leader Jose Lopez of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center says it’s a stark reality for Humboldt Park residents who are still traveling to help loved ones on the island to repair damage from Hurricane Maria.  

“Puerto Rico is primarily an elderly population. And so people here have elderly family in Puerto Rico and that creates even greater challenges,” Lopez said.

But now, the surging coronavirus is pushing the Puerto Rican community to the brink. 

“There’s a tremendous need of testing in this community.  There’s a tremendous need of understanding how this COVID has impacted the Puerto Rican and Latino community,” Lopez said.

Arwady is staying positive, trying to encourage people to be safe. But a recent uptick in the number of infected Chicagoans is creating concern.

“We can do this. We’ve done it before,” Arwady said. 

Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin are also on the list.

Arwady said the city’s test positivity rate is at 4.8 percent as of Tuesday and the city averages 270 new cases per day, but the department has “significant concern” about a continued increase in cases.

“We would like that number of cases per day to be under 200,” she said. “We were there about a month ago. But we’ve been seeing a slow increase in cases.”

Tragically, many are unwittingly bringing the virus home by letting their guard down and inviting small groups of people to backyard graduation parties and barbecues. Arwady said number one risk factor is exposure within the household, which is 10 times the risk than any of the other exposure.

“Where we are seeing COVID spread in Chicago is in households and social gatherings,” Arwady said.  “We have a family of four that was all positive… we have a teenager in the household who hosted a two-day card tournament with many people coming to the home for the social gathering.  We’re still investigating this case.”

Arwady said 18-29 year-olds are the group with the largest increase in cases of the virus but the number of average hospitalizations and deaths per day has been stable.

“At our peak, we were having more than 50 Chicago residents dying of COVID every day,” she said. “Right now, we are seeing an average of three Chicago residents dying every day.”

However, Arwady said that an increase in deaths and hospitalizations typically comes after an increase in case numbers. And that the younger residents can spread the virus to older people who may, in many cases, need to be hospitalized.

“It’s easy to let your guard down, to not wear masks, to not social distant. But the problem is, as we’re seeing cases increase, the risk is significantly higher. And as people letting down their guard, they’re out potentially contracting COVID and bringing it back into households,” Arwady said.

Settings in which large populations live or work in close proximity, such as long term care facilities, jails and workplaces are not as concerning as they once were, according to Arwady. Masking and social distancing has helped protect against the spread of the virus in those places, she said.

It is social visits between friends, families and neighbors, birthday parties, and gatherings where social distancing was lax that are causing concern.

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