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4 cases of measles now confirmed at Chicago migrant shelter, including CPS student

Measles cases follow longstanding concerns about disease at Chicago migrant shelters


Measles cases follow longstanding concerns about disease at Chicago migrant shelters

02:54

CHICAGO (CBS) —  Four cases of measles have now been reported at the migrant shelter for new arrivals in Pilsen, the Chicago Department of Public Health confirmed Monday. 

This marks a total of five cases of the highly contagious disease in Chicago in just four days. 

Chicago Public Schools said one patient was a CPS student. The youngster attended Philip D. Armour Elementary School, 950 W. 33rd Pl., and was staying at the Halsted Street migrant shelter in Pilsen. 

The youngster was hospitalized as of Monday, but in good condition.

Two additional cases of measles at the shelter were confirmed Monday. These cases were both in adults, the CDPH said.

CDPH has advised that all families staying at the shelter keep their children in place “out of an abundance of caution” on Friday and again Monday.

“The parents of children who are not up to date or whose vaccination status remains unknown will be advised to follow CDPH guidelines, ensure their children shelter in place, and follow quarantine protocols,” CPS wrote in a letter to parents. “CPS will be enforcing that guidance and those protocols to best protect all staff and students.”

Since the case was confirmed, there has been an organized effort involving the city and multiple volunteer groups to get many of the migrants vaccinated to try to prevent an outbreak. 

Measles is a highly contagious, serious airborne disease that can lead to severe complications or death.

“Measles is probably the most contagious virus that we know of,” said Dr. Larry Kociolek of Lurie Children’s Hospital. “On average, one child will spread it to 18 additional children if they’re not vaccinated.”

Lurie was not treating any measles cases as of Monday, but Kociolek said with a confirmed case in the system, it is time for parents who chose not to vaccinate their kids to listen up.

“Parents should be very comfortable with the safety of our vaccines,” Kociolek said.


2 more new measles cases confirmed at Chicago migrant shelter

03:00

The first case at the shelter, 2241 S. Halsted St., was reported on Friday.  According to CDPH, that young child has recovered and is no longer contagious. Health officials have been investigating to determine who may have been exposed while the child was infectious.  

The city has encountered obstacles as they move forward with the vaccination effort. Many of the migrants, most of whom are men, have been hesitant. As one volunteer told CBS 2, educating the group about the importance of getting vaccinated and gaining their trust has become a priority. 

“You are working with people with a lot of trauma, so it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Just get the shot,'” said volunteer Jaime Groth Searle. “The big problem these folks have is this disrupts any plans that they have.” 

“Besides death, there are complications like inflammation of the brain. One very common side effect, that actually I don’t believe is talked about enough, is your immune system could be put out of commission for a couple of weeks if not months,” said Dr. David Nguyen with Rush University Medical Center.

According to the city, those who do get vaccinated can leave the shelter, while those who opt out must remain inside to be screened for symptoms and offered the vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the CDC announced Monday that it is sending a team of experts to support the local response to the measles outbreak – with arrival expected on Tuesday. Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said the CDC would be coming to the Pilsen shelter.

“CDC continues to recommend the safe and effective MMR vaccination as part of the routine immunizations schedule for all children and adults, with special guidance for international travel,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.”

CDC staff will work with the city and state health departments to identify potential exposures and possible transmission sources, provide clinical guidance for active measles cases, support outreach to community members and clinicians, and provide guidance on targeted vaccination campaigns for congregate settings, among other responsibilities. The CDC has also provided measles vaccines to the Department of Public Health and nearby jurisdictions to ensure an adequate vaccine supply.

Also Monday, Cook County Health reported on the itineraries of two of the five Chicago measles patients. One patient presented with measles-like symptoms to the Stroger Hospital of Cook County emergency department on Tuesday Feb. 27, and was admitted under proper isolation and airborne precautions – and tested positive for measles on Tuesday of last week.

On Thursday, March 7, a patient visited the Cook County Health Arlington Heights Health Center, and the Cook County Health Professional Building at 1950 W. Polk St., and later tested positive for measles.

Anyone who was in the Stroger Hospital Emergency Department on Tuesday, Feb. 27, between noon and 11:58 p.m., or the Cook County Health Professional Building on Thursday, March 7, between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., should call the Chicago Department of Public Health at 312-743-7216 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Anyone who was at the Arlington Heights Health Center on Thursday, March 7, between noon and 2 p.m. should contact the Cook County Department of Public Health at 708-836-8600.

Disease concerns at migrant shelters go back months

“We have been talking about the dangers of communicable diseases – specifically measles – since October when this shelter opened,” said volunteer Annie Gomberg, “and we haven’t seen, up until very recently, the action of getting more health providers in shelters.”

Gomberg has volunteered with asylum seekers since they were staying at police stations. She said health screenings were inconsistent back then.

“We often had people coming directly from a bus right to us – and that was really, really dangerous,” Gomberg said, “and we saw that happen over and over and over again.”

The CDC recommended asylum seekers undergo medical exams once they have been granted asylum status. But it is only required when the asylee applies for a change in legal status, according to the CDC website.

The city said it offers medical assessments to new arrivals who have gone through the city intake process.

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez is calling for a more streamlined process.

“At the border, or at the state when they arrive here – because when they are at congregate settings, you know the group influence is powerful,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

Symptoms of measles

After being exposed, symptoms could take from seven to 21 days to show up.

The most common symptoms include rash, high fever (104 degrees), cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), a rash can break out three to five days after symptoms begin. The rash appears in small red, raised bumps. The rash typically begins on the face and neck and then spreads down the body. 

Tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth between two and three days after symptoms begin, according to the CDC. 

Measles is more contagious than COVID and flu, according to Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

According to the World Health Organization, complications can include blindness, encephalitis (an infection causing brain swelling and potentially brain damage), severe diarrhea, dehydration, ear infections, and severe breathing problems, including pneumonia.

Anyone who develops symptoms of measles should contact a healthcare provider by phone or email before going to a medical office or emergency department. Special arrangements can be made for evaluation while also protecting others from exposure.

Measles vaccinations in Chicago

The disease was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, but it has returned – as vaccination rates have fallen below the 95% needed to achieve herd immunity.

In Cook County, outside of Chicago, four cases of measles were detected last year, the first since 2019. Health officials have said it was a concerning trend because more schools are falling below that herd immunity threshold.

A CBS 2 analysis of state immunization data from the 2022-2023 school year shows 882 schools statewide reported vaccination rates lower than the federal recommendation of 95%.

A total of 288 of those schools are within the Chicago Public Schools system. Some schools have a measles vaccination rate as low as 12%, with some pre-K students.  

This latest confirmed case in a school is reason for concern.

“Measles is an airborne disease – which means if someone has measles, that virus will fill an airspace,” Dr. Kociolek said. “So any time that is a congregate setting – whether it’s a school, or a shelter; could be a concert or a college campus – there’s a risk for lots of people being exposed.”

CPDH Immunization clinics provide MMR for no out-of-pocket cost to any child between zero and 18 years old and uninsured adults. Most insurance companies must cover all vaccines at no cost to patients. 

“The vaccine is safe and extremely effective. If your children fell behind on vaccinations during the pandemic, it is not too late to catch up,” Dr. Wallace told CBS 2.   

Doctors recommend that most children receive their first MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine at 12 to 15 months. The second dose is to be given around 4 to 6 years old. According to state law, Illinois children as young as 10 can also get vaccinated at pharmacies. 

“The key to preventing measles is vaccination. If you are not vaccinated, we strongly encourage you to get the vaccine,” said CDPH Commissioner Olusimbo Ige.

According to health officials, nearly 900 migrants at the Pilsen shelter who did not have prior evidence of immunity to measles have been vaccinated. More than 700 residents were assessed and found to be already immune to measles through previous vaccination or infection.

After 21 days, when the new vaccinations have taken their full effect, vaccine coverage will be above 95% in the shelter.

This was something to which Mayor Brandon Johnson spoke Monday.

“We have a quarantine plan. It’s a 20-day quarantine, so this is not something that is going to go away immediately. So this quarantine is 21 days,” Mayor Johnson said. “But again, we are encouraging as many people in the city of Chicago to get vaccinated.”

The mayor emphasized that the city is making progress.

“The Department of Public Health has been on the ground in various spaces — especially this one shelter that has had this outbreak,” the mayor said. “The number of migrants in particular who were unvaccinated who are now vaccinated – that number has substantially grown.”

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez on Monday also spoke out about the importance of vaccinations. He also stressed the importance of health checks for new arrivals. 

CBS 2 asked Chicago Public Schools officials several questions Monday about vaccination proof — and why vaccination status wasn’t checked until now. CPS released this statement, which does not address the questions CBS 2 asked:

“The health, safety and well-being of our students and staff is a top priority and that is why Chicago Public Schools is working closely with our City partners, including the Chicago Department of Public Health to respond to a reported positive measles case of a school-aged child. We will continue to provide resources, support and information to our entire community to ensure our valued staff and families have the appropriate information to stay safe. CPS provides multiple opportunities for vaccination as well as resources for community-based services and we work closely with families to help them be up-to-date on all vaccinations as it is known as one of the best tools to protect our youth from severe childhood illness.”

Measles cases on the rise

Cases of measles have been on the rise globally, with more than 306,000 cases reported last year. CBS 2 is told the rise in cases should also send a message, particularly for families with children.

“It is something that if you are not vaccinated – or if you have a child that may have been delayed during vaccines during the pandemic – this is a good time to reach out to your pediatrician to make sure that your kids are up to date with their vaccines,” said Dr. Bessey Gevarghese of Lurie Children’s Hospital. “The decisions you make are affecting the larger population.”

Dr. Kociolek emphasized that it can only take one patient to cause a crisis.

“If even one individual is susceptible and acquires measles and brings it back to the United States, they can put others at risk,” Kociolek said.

Lower vaccination rates make this more likely to happen.

“Obviously, the lower the protection, the more the vulnerability,” Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, chief operating officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, “which means, not only do you have more students that are more vulnerable – but it means that should a student get measles, that can basically run through that community very quickly.”

The last measles case in Chicago before the latest ones was in 2019. But it has been decades since there was a full-on outbreak.

“The last major outbreak of measles in Chicago was a long time ago – in the late 1980s,” Kociolek said “While there have been sporadic cases in Chicago typically associated with travel those have not made their ways into schools and daycares.” 

But the risk of something like that happening again becomes higher with so many people sheltered together in close quarters, as in the Pilsen migrant shelter.

“In a shelter with 1,900 people residing there, there are hundreds of people at risk; hundreds of children,” Kociolek said.

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Tara Molina

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