The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office has reported the first local fatality caused by COVID-19, the respiratory disease that so far has killed more than 240 statewide.
According to the medical examiner, the 73-year-old man, who resided in a multifamily building in the 2900 block of Lincoln Avenue, died March 31 at Loyola University Medical Center.
Meanwhile, total number of positive COVID-19 cases locally nearly tripled since March 30, according to data being compiled by the Cook County Board of Public Health, which last week formally unveiled its map tracking the spread of the disease.
Brookfield as of Tuesday morning had 21 positive cases, according to the county, while Riverside and North Riverside each had 10.
On March 30, the county had reported about 15 cases total in the three villages.
But all around the villages, numbers in neighboring communities continue to grow. On April 6, Berwyn and Cicero reported 80 and 95 positive cases, respectively, while Forest Park had 30, Broadview 17 and LaGrange 19. The village of LaGrange Park had 11 positive cases while Lyons had reported six as of April 7.
No deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Brookfield or Riverside, but there are reports of serious cases and of at least one case in Riverside where someone suffering from the disease had to be re-hospitalized after being sent home.
“We’re watching the trends very closely to see where this is going,” said Riverside Fire Chief Matthew Buckley. “There’s going to be an uptick in the number of cases. The numbers have been fluctuating, but we’re preparing to handle an increase in numbers.”
Brookfield Fire Chief Jim Adams said that his firefighter/paramedics have been in close contact with a couple of COVID-19 cases, but he said the department has been following protocols for making sure personnel are wearing protective equipment in those cases.
“When we have come into contact, I’d say our exposure can be considered low-risk,” said Adams, who was supposed to start in his new role as the village’s fire chief on April 6, but stepped in early due to the pandemic.
Adams said firefighters have been told to monitor their temperatures twice daily to make sure they aren’t exhibiting any symptoms.
“Everybody’s been relatively healthy,” Adams said.
But, officials remain concerned about a lack of information coming from Cook County, especially information on where first responders might encounter people known to be positive and who are isolating at home.
The Cook County Department of Public Health has been reluctant to share that information with suburban fire and police chiefs.
“It’s sad it’s so slow for the village to find out where the cases are,” said North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “We’re seeing the [county map] like you are. I know it’s all new territory for everyone, but it’s very frustrating.”
Hermanek said he did not know of the village’s March 31 fatality until he was informed by the Landmark.
Local officials got a lift April 2, when the Illinois Department of Public Health issued a statement, emphasizing that the Illinois Attorney General has said disclosure of information about COVID-19 patients to local police and fire officials is permitted as an exception to HIPPA laws.
Just how Cook County will respond to that opinion is unclear, especially in light of the fact that Dr. Terry Mason, the chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health was removed from the job on April 3.
Local officials argue that the county ought to follow the attorney general’s lead and provide more information to community leaders.
“My hope is that the county will move quickly to implement advising first responders of the location of known COVID-19 cases and of persons under investigation,” said Riverside Village President Ben Sells. “Given the limited stores of PPE [personal protective equipment], our first responders cannot reasonably ‘gear up’ for every call as if they are going into a known infected site. The longer the county delays the longer our first responders are put at increased risk.”