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Shedd Aquarium Loans High-Tech Lab Equipment To State For Use In Coronavirus Testing

The equipment can do in hours what it might take an entire day for technicians to do manually, speeding up the testing process for COVID-19 patients.

Shedd Aquarium/Provided
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CHICAGO — The Shedd Aquarium is pitching in to the fight against coronavirus.

The aquarium — which has kept Chicagoans’ spirits up by posting videos of its penguins, porcupine and other creatures — has loaned out laboratory equipment to the Illinois Department of Public Health so it can be used for COVID-19 tests, according to the aquarium.

The equipment, called the KingFisher and one of only a few robotic extraction devices in Illinois, will be used to “extract DNA and RNA from biological samples, which is the first step” in coronavirus testing, according to the Shedd. When done manually, that process is “extremely time-consuming.”

But using the machine saves time: While it might take an entire day to process 20 samples by hand, the machine can do 90 samples in half the time, which is the equivalent to eight technicians working, according to the Shedd.

The Shedd normally uses the machine for its research work; in the past, it’s helped the experts there boost their dolphins’ immunity and save endangered turtles, among other things, according to the aquarium.

The Shedd Aquarium is currently closed because of the pandemic.

Symptoms

Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.

Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.

The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The most common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.

How To Protect Yourself

The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.

Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:

  • The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
    The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
  • Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.

What To Do If You Think You’re Sick

Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.

Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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