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Measles case reported at Chicago’s largest migrant shelter

Measles case reported at Chicago’s largest migrant shelter

A child staying at a migrant shelter on the Lower West Side developed a confirmed case of measles, Chicago public health officials announced Friday. It was the second case of measles reported in the city this week.

Officials said the child has recovered and is no longer infectious. The city of Chicago is responding with a “host of resources,” a city spokesperson said in a statement Friday morning.

“Those who have been vaccinated can go about their normal business while those who have not been vaccinated will have to remain indoors to watch for symptoms,” the statement said.

Chicago Public Schools issued a statement that said the child was not a CPS student. All families residing at the shelter were advised to remain in place and and school-aged children were told to not attend school Friday, according to CPS.

The site of the newly confirmed case is the most crowded shelter in the city’s web of 23 buildings currently housing over 11,600 migrants, thousands who have arrived on buses sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — many of them fleeing a failed economy and health infrastructure in Venezuela.

It is a large warehouse that has received skepticism from health advocates and volunteers helping migrants after a 5-year-old staying there died in December.

Migrants outside the shelter Friday said they’d been told by shelter staff about the measles case at around 12:30 a.m. They were told to quarantine for 10 days, but migrants said they’d received mixed messages about what that meant. They weren’t sure if they could go to work or school.

The news and confusion led to several fights breaking out in the shelter, said Tibisay Luna, 43, from Valencia, Venezuela. Her daughters — 9-year-old Franmaris Luna and 11-year-old Frayeli Luna — hugged her legs and cried as they waited for a bus.

“I received a call from the school that they were missing from class this morning,” said Luna, who moved into the shelter with her family at the end of December. “So we’re going to talk to their teachers to tell them what’s going on.”

She said her daughters aren’t vaccinated for measles but she hoped they would be soon. Early Friday morning, several doctors arrived at the shelter to begin a round of vaccinations.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, said in a statement Friday that he had just visited the shelter site on Tuesday and that his office continues to hold biweekly meetings with the city and shelter staff to “coordinate efforts for preventive care, vaccination, and treatment.”

“Historically, communities of color experience a lower rate of vaccinations due to generational systemic barriers, in many instances not aided or even exacerbated by government-run institutions. We understand the intersectional needs that our communities face, therefore we implore the county, state and federal government to provide immediate assistance to the city of Chicago,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “Our city continues to face a public health crisis created by the lack of support from the federal government and agencies, and all the aforementioned entities who have not stepped up to support our new arrivals mission in the same way they previously supported migrant communities’ dignified integration such as Ukrainian refugees.”

The city’s Department of Public Health is working with other city agencies to ensure all migrants at the shelter who may have come in contact with the child are informed and vaccinated. Officials said migrants and staff who have been asked to remain in place will be given increased meal services and protective equipment.

Thursday, officials identified the first case of measles in the city since 2019 on the city’s Northwest Side. Though the source of the infection was unknown, officials said people who were at the Galter Medical Pavilion at Swedish Hospital or riding the CTA 92 Foster bus the morning of Feb. 27 may have been exposed.

That contagiousness period ended Wednesday.

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. It is particularly dangerous to babies and young children. It spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes or when a person comes into contact with an infected person’s mucus or saliva, according to state public health information.

Health officials say children with measles may experience unpleasant symptoms like high fever and a rash. A small proportion of children can develop complications from measles that can be life-threatening, usually an infection of the lungs or brain.

Since 2011, there have been several confirmed cases of measles in Chicago, many related to international travel.

Most people born in the United States are vaccinated against the disease, but city officials are urging anyone not vaccinated against measles to do so immediately.

Larry Kociolek, an infectious diseases physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said infections that are spread through the air — like measles and chickenpox — can spread quickly in congregate settings like shelters. And Kociolek said that many migrants don’t have vaccine records.

“Families tend to be good historians and can accurately report whether or not they’ve gotten vaccines … If you wanted to confirm, you can check a blood test for measles immunity,” he said. “But that’s not always feasible particularly in a situation like this.”

The vaccine is available at most doctor’s offices and pharmacies. More information is available on the Chicago Department of Public Health website.

Keywell Barrios, 30, said his wife worked as a nurse in their home city of Valera, Venezuela. Because of that, their family had their vaccinations and immunization records. But Barrios said many inside the shelter on the Lower West Side don’t.

People were panicked when they heard the news, he said.

“They thought they would be put out on the street and have to start from ground zero,” he said.

Barrios rolled a suitcase of dirty laundry from the door of the shelter. His son Johangel Barrios, 5, followed closely behind.

Chicago Tribune’s Caroline Kubzansky contributed.