Cook Co. Board resolution instructs county health officials to give COVID-19 patient addresses to first responders

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Cook County Board has approved a resolution that directs the county health department to provide the addresses of COVID-19 patients to first responders.

For months police, fire and EMS workers in the Cook County suburbs have been saying for their safety, they need to know when a call for service involves someone infected by the new coronavirus.

RELATED: First responders want to know if routine police and fire calls involve COVID-19 victims

Following contentious viewpoints and lengthy discussions at this week's board meeting, the board voted nine to seven in favor of providing COVID-19 positive addresses.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was "profoundly disappointed" by the passage.

Some members of the board expressed concern about racism in the system and fears that homes flagged as having novel coronavirus would stigmatize the patient(s) and others living inside.

"I don't see how anyone who understand the endemic nature of racism in this country, and the discrimination that black and brown people have experienced, will assume that this resolution is somehow going to be immune from that discrimination and endemic racism," Preckwinkle said.

Commissioner Scott Britton, who sponsored the resolution, acknowledged the civil rights concerns but assured members the measure includes limits.

Co-sponsor, Commissioner Donna Miller told the board during their virtual meeting Thursday she was behind the measure because she believed first responders need to be equipped with as much information as possible.

"I've heard from the majority, at least 90% of the 36 municipalities that I represent in the south and southwest suburbs; mayors, police chiefs as well as fire chiefs," she said. "So for these reasons I will be co-sponsoring this resolution and I would encourage an aye vote."

The release of personal coronavirus information has fractured the board in recent weeks, as members debated allowing these medical details to be distributed to police, fire and EMS personnel.

"These types of records have been used to characterize and quite frankly demonize people into farther marginalized states and so, with that, I will not be supporting this one," said Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

Commissioner Alama Anaya urged members to find another solution.

"We need to find a better way of doing this without stigmatizing certain communities that have been disproportionally affected, and that is why I cannot support this," said Anaya.

Federal HIPAA law allows for the release of personal health information to law enforcement for prevention of a "serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of an individual to the public."

"We have to think about the mental side of this it's one little set of pressure off an otherwise highly pressurized job. So, I support wholly," said Commissioner Sean Morrison.

Numerous law enforcement and fire agencies have told the I-Team while they routinely use masks and gloves, they do not have enough of the heavy duty personal protective equipment, or PPE, to use at every call.

The police chief of the Village of Hillside, Joseph Lukaszek, said many of the suburban departments are ecstatic the measure was passed.

"We needed that. We need to know what we are walking into. The information that we get we're not keeping it. This is information that we just need for the time being, as we're on the call, and then we'll forget about it. This is nothing that we're to keep it there's no scarlet letter here or anything like that," he said.

He also told the I-Team race will not be an issue.

"This does not bring a racial divide," said Lukaszek. "We are already responding to that call for help or for assistance. Nobody's asking them if they're white or your black, Hispanic; we don't care. We're already going to that call."

"People should be aware that the police are not there just to take people to jail. We're there to help people," he added.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois says the new policy gives first responders a false sense of security and makes them vulnerable to infection because so many people in Cook County have had COVID-19 but never been tested, so their addresses won't be in the health department database. An ACLU official says they are exploring next steps.
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