As the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 continues to rise in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside, including the number of fatalities, local officials remain hopeful that Cook County might soon begin to share information with first responders to help safeguard them as they respond to medical calls.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said an intergovernmental agreement, based on one recently adopted by the McHenry County Board, is expected to be discussed by the Cook County Board at its meeting scheduled for April 23.
The agreement would allow for the county to temporarily share the addresses of people known to have tested positive for COVID-19 in order for police and paramedics to take necessary precautions when responding to those addresses.
On April 17, Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas, who is president of the West Suburban Chiefs of Police Association, sent a letter to the Cook County Board on behalf of the 35 municipalities represented by the group, urging county commissioners to share address information with first responders.
“Having knowledge that there is a citizen infected with COVID-19 at an address will ensure that our first responders are wearing additional [personal protective equipment] such as face shields, shoe covers and gowns when dispatched to that address,” Aftanas wrote.
As of the morning of April 21, the Cook County Department of Public Health had reported more than 1,000 deaths countywide from COVID-19, with 343 in the suburbs.
By Tuesday morning, cases in North Riverside had more than doubled since April 14 to 29, including two fatalities. The most recent person to succumb to the disease was a 73-year-old man who died at Hines V.A. Hospital on April 15.
North Riverside’s rate of infection also jumped to 435 per 100,000 people, more in line with towns like Berwyn, Cicero and Broadview. A week ago, North Riverside’s rate was 195 per 100,000 people.
The county still reported no COVID-19 deaths in Riverside and Brookfield, even though Riverside’s fire chief has confirmed at least fatality in that village, a 58-year-old man who died on April 11.
Cook County reported that as of the morning of April 21, Riverside had 30 people who’d tested positive for COVID-19, while Brookfield had 53.
The rates of infection in both of those village’s also increased week over week, with Riverside going from 248 to 338 per 100,000. Brookfield’s rate of infection increased from 195 to 279 per 100,000.
It is unclear exactly where the county is pulling its data for the sources it provides online, how much of a delay there might be in reporting fatalities or how many are not being counted at all.
An email from the Landmark seeking that information from the county has not been answered. Buckley said that in conference calls with county officials, local fire and police chiefs also can’t get that information.
“They don’t have an answer for us,” Buckley said.
Focus on nursing homes
At the same time, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday announced the state is ramping up COVID-19 testing for both residents and staff at nursing homes, veterans’ homes and other long-term care facilities, including those where no cases of the disease have yet been reported.
Illinois Department of Public Health also is now making public detailed information about long-term care facilities where outbreaks of the disease have been reported.
Pritzker said the state is prioritizing testing at long-term care facilities because they house populations among whom an outbreak is more likely to result in serious complications, or even death.
He said the Illinois National Guard and the Department of Transportation began delivering testing supplies to facilities without any known cases over the weekend and that those efforts will continue until all such facilities have been supplied.
So far, no residents or employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at Cantata Adult Health Services in Brookfield or at Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care in North Riverside.
Both long-term care facilities, however, have taken stringent steps to limit the spread. On April 18, Caledonia Senior Living officials announced they had decided to begin sheltering residents in their rooms for all meals and activities. A month ago, Caledonia began limiting visitor access to the facility and taking other precautions to safeguard employees and residents.
“The fact is, we have to do all we can to preserve [their safety],” said Gus Noble, president of Caledonia Senior Living. “I’ll do anything to protect the lives of the people living and working here. It’s not what we want for our residents, and this isn’t the promise we made to them. But we have to see what our first and highest priority is.”
At Cantata, resident mobility within the campus has also been restricted, said Kevin Heraty, Cantata’s chief development officer.
“Resident mobility in all of our buildings is restricted such that residents spend most of their time in their rooms,” Heraty said in an email. “In the limited time that residents may be outside of their rooms, they should be wearing masks, as all employees are required to do. Residents are monitored by our staff members, and are required to stay in the general area where they live. When the weather is nice, we allow residents to go outside with strict limitations, and social distancing is enforced at all times.”
Caledonia Senior Living is attempting to break the monotony by offering activities that residents can participate in while in their rooms. Last week, they hosted a celebrity bingo tournament featuring actor Nick Gehlfuss of the TV show “Chicago Med” as the caller. Residents can also step outside their rooms into the hallway for socially distanced exercise classes, which are also livestreamed in their rooms.
Other cultural programs, including a livestreamed performance by violinist Rachel Barton Pine and visits to the Caledonia outdoor courtyards by the Highland Dancers and pipers are also planned.
Noble, a musician, says he now keeps a guitar in his office permanently “in case we’re in need of some comic relief.”
Pritzker said that so far, long-term care facilities in Illinois have complied with IDPH guidance and he praised the staff at those facilities as “front-line workers” who dedicate their lives to caring for the state’s seniors.
Peter Hancock of Capitol News Illinois also contributed to this report.