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Illinois schools warned to be on lookout for coronavirus as national fears mount

3D art based on microscope images of the coronavirus from the 2020 outbreak in Wuhan, China
3D art based on microscope images of the coronavirus from the 2020 outbreak in Wuhan, China
Joao Paulo Burini/Getty Images

The Illinois Department of Public Health is advising that any student who has recently traveled to China should not attend school for 14 days, and that schools should automatically excuse such absences so as not to deter families from keeping children home.

The state school board said it has been distributing the department’s school-specific guidance, last updated Feb. 19, to campuses. “The situation is rapidly changing, and we are monitoring it closely,” the health department’s materials advise.

Chicago Public Schools distributed its own guidelines to schools on Feb. 7. The district’s guidelines include a similar 14-day recommendation for both students and school staff members who returned from China on or after Feb. 3.

At Wednesday’s monthly board meeting, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey urged vigilance from the city’s board of education on the matter.

“Coronavirus isnt here yet, but if we are not tracking that, we need to be tracking it.”

Illinois public health department guidelines advise school personnel and students to wash hands frequently with soap and water or, if soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The department said it is not recommending that school personnel wear masks or cancel large gatherings.

On Tuesday, Education Week reported that an official from the Centers for Disease Control said in a press conference that schools should be asked about early dismissals, potential closures, and online schooling in the case that the virus spreads in the United States.

Global health officials have now confirmed more coronavirus cases outside of China than within it. Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory virus first identified in China in December.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has confirmed two people tested positive and 66 tested negative for the virus as of Wednesday. It reported that the status of two more people was pending.

State health officials have said that Illinois is the first state to be able to test for the new virus in lieu of sending samples to the federal government for testing. A Chicago lab can test the results and make them available within 24 hours.

Yana Kunichoff contributed reporting.

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