Positive cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed in all three communities covered by the Landmark, after the newspaper revealed last week that the Cook County Department of Public Health maintained a previously undisclosed public website that tracks cases by individual town in suburban Cook County.
Revelation of that website’s existence, surprised many area elected officials who have been clamoring for information about the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the upper respiratory disease, which as of March 30 stood at more than 3,400 cases in Cook County, including 40 deaths.
As the Landmark story was shared after it was published on March 26, web traffic apparently overwhelmed the site, which was unavailable for the next three days.
The website, which includes a link to an interactive map tracking the number of cases, was working again by March 30, although it was not always responsive. The website had been updated, however, confirming five cases in Brookfield, seven in Riverside and between one and four in North Riverside.
“I think it’s a great resource but we have a little way to go,” said Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley, who said he did not receive any answers from the county as to why the website was down for so long.
In addition to providing some level of information to local officials, the website is also a tangible way to show citizens that the disease is present, right now.
“It tells other people out there that this is here,” Buckley said. “It’s not a joke; you’ve got to do your part.”
Buckley said that, as far as he is aware, Riverside paramedics have not personally treated anyone positive for COVID-19, but he didn’t rule it out, since the county is keeping patient information confidential, even from local officials.
“We’re trying to put on a full-court press,” said Buckley. “I just want to know what house is under isolation to help us respond appropriately. I want my guys ready for when they go into these places. It’s just one more layer of protection to keep them safe.”
Buckley said he was personally aware of two positive cases in Riverside, a husband and wife. One of the two is being treated at a hospital. The other is being isolated at home, Buckley said.
Other than the limited information available from the Cook County Department of Public Health’s map, Buckley and other local officials say their information is coming through word of mouth.
“We’re only getting it from people nice enough to call and tell us, ‘We’re under isolation,'” Buckley said. “But, some are so sick they don’t even have the strength to pick up the phone.”
Prior to finding out about the map, North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said his knowledge of local cases were ones where he knew those who’d tested positive. He said Monday he knew of five people who’d tested positive, including two close friends, a husband and wife and one of their children, who were being treated at a local hospital.
About a week earlier, through a friend, he’d learned of a young woman who worked at a Chicago hospital who’d contracted the disease and was isolating at her North Riverside home.
As of Monday afternoon, the Cook County Department of Public Health’s map showed fewer than five cases, leading Hermanek to conclude it’s not completely up to date.
“The site is nice, but I’m not sure how accurate they are,” Hermanek said.
Like Buckley, Hermanek said it’s vital to get more information to first responders before they come into contact with someone positive for COVID-19.
“I think it’s important for each village to have statistics on cases,” Hermanek said. “It helps first responders, so when they go to an address if there’s an issue, or if it’s concentrated in a certain area.”
Buckley said Cook County has resisted sharing any patient information with municipalities, even addresses where they know people are self-isolating. County officials are waiting for a directive from the governor on that issue, Buckley said.
The fears for first responders are real. Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak and Fire Chief Jim Adams had to quarantine two police officers and three paramedics briefly last week after they responded to a call for someone having a panic attack, saying he had flu-like symptoms and needed to be restrained.
After the physical interaction with that patient, the police officers and paramedics were told to isolate at home until the patient’s test results came back. Two days later the test came back negative.
“It’s scary stuff,” Petrak said. “We worry about bringing it home to our families. We don’t want to expose them to anything.”
Petrak, too, said local first responders need more information about people who’ve tested positive live.
“We’d like to know what we’re stepping into before we get there,” Petrak said, saying the county’s case map is a good start. “But it’s more advantageous if we knew the addresses. That’d be good information for our officers.”