Updated 4/30, 1:27 a.m.
Unless you made it to University Health Services, you wouldn’t know from walking around the Northwestern campus on Wednesday that swine flu has hit Chicagoland.
By 5 p.m, “cover your cough” signs had been hung across the check-in desk at Searle and bottles of hand sanitizer sat in prominent positions. An employee said Health Services was handing out surgical masks to people with coughs.
Authorities announced nine probable cases of swine flu across greater Chicago during the day on Wednesday, but aside from some changes in Searle, life at Northwestern was relatively undisturbed.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s just the flu, and if we wash our hands, we’ll be fine,” said Weinberg senior Eric Kramer.
“I’m actually not concerned at all,” said Weinberg junior Moriah Hnath. “Maybe I should be [...] It just feels really distant to me. I think part of that is being on a university campus.”
Some students hadn’t heard about the cases in the Chicago area, and those who had were mostly unclear on the details. Mitch Bergson, a Weinberg sophomore admitted that he’d bought some Vitamin C and hand sanitizer but said, “I’ll go on living my life, and keep an eye on how I feel.”
In one case, an elementary school less than five miles from campus was shut down. Chicago Public Schools officials closed Kilmer Elementary School in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago while they investigated a suspected case of swine flu in a twelve-year-old student.
Ron Huberman, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said the school is closed for at least two days.
Only blocks away, officials at Loyola University Chicago announced later in the day that one Loyola student, a 20-year-old male who lived on campus, had probably contracted swine flu.
Even before the announcement, though, the university began taking precautions. Signs at the Loyola Wellness Center asked Wednesday morning, “Do you have the flu?” The sign told visitors showing symptoms to “please put on a mask while you wait.” Loyola students spoke casually about the virus on Wednesday morning before learning about the case on campus.
Loyola senior Darkus Beasley said around 11 a.m. on Wednesday that he used to live in an off-campus apartment near Kilmer Elementary School. But for now, he said, the swine flu is “not pertinent to me. I don’t feel like I’m going to catch it.” Beasley added, “Until somebody I know has the swine flu, I don’t really think I’ll consider it.”
But the threat became a lot more immediate for Beasley and his classmates at 5 p.m., when the university released a statement about the infected student. The letter reassured students that the university would “conduct business as usual” and urged them to “take precautions in order to stay healthy and to do your part to keep the community safe.”
Vice President for University Relations Al Cubbage said this morning that Northwestern is monitoring the situation nearby, but has not made any immediate changes to its response plan.
“There are other cases that are very nearby. Notre Dame had a case,” Cubbage said.
That case is the first one confirmed in Indiana, and the first in any state bordering Illinois. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 cases in the U.S. had been confirmed as of 11 a.m. Wednesday.
The CDC Web site states, “Most people will not have immunity to this new virus and, as it continues to spread, more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths are expected in the coming days and weeks.”
“We will continue to monitor the situation and we’re aware of the developments,” Cubbage said. “If circumstances change, we will continue to update the campus community.”
Associate professor Dirk Brockmann, who had created a “worst-case scenario” projection for swine flu in urban areas, said, “It’s very important not to panic and overreact to these incidents.” He also stated that this potential outbreak does not present any new danger.
Robert Lamb, John Evans Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Northwestern, said, “So far, it’s clear that there’s human-to-human transmission of the virus. It seems there’s always been a link to Mexico somewhere, but clearly that’s a job for the epidemiologists to figure out. No, I don’t think there’s anything we can do at the present time, except wash our hands frequently.”
No officials from Northwestern University Health Services could be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Updated: 4/30 3:30 a.m:The original version of this article called CEO of Chicago Public Schools “Richard Huberman.” His real name is “Ron Huberman.” Thanks to commenter Medill F for for the correction. North by Northwestern regrets this error.