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SYCAMORE – Three days after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced in DeKalb County, two more cases have been identified, according to the DeKalb County Public Health Department, and one of them is a student at Northern Illinois University.
An NIU student in their 20s and a person in their 50s have tested positive for the coronavirus, the viral respiratory disease causing a global pandemic. An additional student tested positive, NIU announced Wednesday, though does not currently reside in DeKalb County, confirmed NIU spokesperson Lisa Miner Wednesday. She did not disclose where that other student is.
“One student is counted in DeKalb, the other is not,” Miner said in an email.
As of noon Wednesday, that brings the total cases in DeKalb County up to three (including a person in their 40’s who was announced Saturday), said Lisa Gonzalez, public health administrator. The state total is up to 1,865 positive cases in 35 counties, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, with 19 deaths reported.
Both NIU students (including the one in DeKalb County) are currently in self-isolation off campus and will not be able to return to their normal activities or to NIU campus until authorized by public health officials, according to an NIU news release.
One student was briefly on campus Monday, March 16 in Montgomery Hall, the home of the biological sciences department, and had “very little contact with others,” the release states. The second student has not been on campus since Tuesday, March 3, but traveled recently with a small group of NIU students.
The release doesn’t state where the second student traveled, though Miner said those who were on the trip with the infected student are being notified by public health officials.
Miner said the unviersity has no plans as of yet to ramp up a additional cleaning measures beyond what’s been outlined on it’s COVID-19 FAQ page on the website.
Cleaning measures include disinfecting “high-touch” surfaces in public areas such as tables, doorknobs, door push plates, light switches, handrails and student desks, along with distributing additional hand sanitizer stations throughout campus, which remains open as of Wednesday.
Little additional information is known about the new cases announced Wednesday, and public health officials are firm in their decisions to not reveal any information which they say may out the identity of a patient. They cite the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which bars medical professionals from revealing health-related information about an individual to the press or public.
“We are really focused on maintaining patient privacy and confidentiality,” Gonzalez said, who declined to reveal whether the patients had had contact with one another or other known cases. “We’ve got a lot of questions from the public about that but our issue is we would be in violation of HIPAA.”
When asked, Gonzalez said she could not reveal where in the county the new cases are, or if the patients were being hospitalized or at home in isolation. She said the health department is in contact with those the patients may have come into contact with, and family members to take necessary precautions.
“Even if we could release [location information] and not be in violation of HIPAA, for smaller areas in our county think about Malta or Kirkland,” Gonzalez said. “Identifying too much information about an individual could identify them to the community, and we don’t think that’s best practice.”
When reached, Christoper King, spokesperson for Northwestern Medicine, said he couldn’t confirm whether or not any COVID-19 patients were at Kishwaukee Hospital, but if they were, the health system does not plan on releasing that information to the public.
“If/when we care for a COVID-19 patient at Kish, we will not be releasing that information due to patient privacy,” King said. “As you have seen, IDPH is not releasing any hospital locations in reporting COVID-19 cases.”
Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital last week set up remote COVID-19 testing sites in front of the hospital, though the sites are not for people who walk in off the street. In order to be tested, a person must call their doctor or a health care professional first who will walk them through a series of questions to determine if they meet a threshold for seriousness of symptoms.
Symptoms include a fever, cough or other cold or flu-like symptoms, difficult breathing or shortness of breath. If approved by a doctor, you can get the test.
Reports of more affluent or public individuals such as elected officials or celebrities getting tested for COVID-19 without experiencing any symptoms contradict with local test availability, which are given seemingly sparingly and with a set of stipulations.
Gonzalez said that has, in part, to do with testing availability.
“Based on what we know, the volume of tests available differ across the nation,” she said. “If there is, for example, a high level of activity in a certain area, they may have more access to testing for that reason. We’re trying to work very closely with our healthcare providers in making sure testing is done for those particularly at-risk populations.”
She said one of the main risks is older populations and those with underlying health conditions such as lung disease, chronic heart disease or diabetes.
“Testing is still being prioritized with symptoms who have a high risk of complications,” she said. “For those who have mild symptoms, the message is still stay at home.”
You can also stay in touch with DeKalb County Health Department COVID-19 related content by signing up for a newsletter at www.dekalbcounty.org/coronavirus, calling 1-800-889-3931 or emailing email@example.com.