by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer


CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Police Officer Marco DiFranco, a 21-year veteran of the force, has died of the coronavirus, after testing positive for COVID-19 last week.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck said DiFranco, 50, was hospitalized over the weekend and died overnight with his family nearby.

“Unfortunately, the severity of the virus became overwhelming, and he passed away with his family by his side. This searing loss is yet another reminder of the lethal danger of COVID-19 and that danger that it poses to our city, and that the numbers that we hear every day are more than just statistics. They represent our neighbors, our grandparents, children, colleagues, and friends,” Lightfoot said.

Beck said DiFranco is survived by a wife, two children — ages 7 and 10 — and a brother who is also a narcotics officer. The officer’s wife, children, and brother have been quarantined, and the facility where DiFranco worked has been cleaned and sanitized.

“His sacrifice underscores the threats that are faced by public safety employees who are not, by nature of their profession, allowed to shelter in place, shelter at home. We have always been more at risk for violence because of our profession, and now I think we are more at risk of virus because of our profession,” Beck said.

Officials declined to say if the officer had any underlying conditions that might have contributed to his death, citing the family’s privacy and the fact an autopsy has not yet been conducted.

Lightfoot said DiFranco worked in the narcotics section at CPD and “was held in high esteem by all who work with him.”

“Since the moment this crisis arrived in our city, it has been our healthcare workers, first responders like this officer who have been putting their lives on the line every day to fight this virus and keep Chicagoans safe. Tragically, this officer gave his life to this fight. Our hearts go out to the individual’s family, friends, and fellow officers whose lives have been forever changed by this terrible loss,” she said.

Beck said in his 21 years on the force, DiFranco received 154 awards, including a Superintendent’s Honorable Mention and a Special Commendation.

Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president Kevin Graham said the union and DiFranco’s fellow officers are “truly devastated” to have lost a comrade to COVID-19.

“Our thoughts and our prayers go out to the officer’s family and the coworkers. I would ask that the citizens of the city of Chicago and the people of Illinois pray for our first responders, for their families, for the medical professionals. This is yet another sign of the daily courage that our members face,” Graham said.

Graham said any officers with feelings of depression or anxiety amid the coronavirus pandemic should reach out to the department, the union, or someone else for assistance.

“The union supports them and will help them through any of these times,” he said.

Officials said it’s unclear how DiFranco contracted the virus. Beck said DiFranco was assigned to a one-person car and often worked undercover, so his contact with the general public was minimal compared to other officers. Therefore, it is unclear if his death will be determined a line-of-duty death.

The superintendent said due to the virus outbreak as many officers as possible are working alone, but he noted parts of the city have too much violence for it to be safe to run one-officer cars exclusively.  However, due to the pandemic when officers are paired up, they are working with the same partner as often as possible to minimize the chances of spreading of the virus.

As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 76 members of the Chicago Police Department had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including 74 officers and two civilian employees.

On Friday the CPD said it was shifting schedules at Public Safety Headquarters and the Bureau of Internal Affairs in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Monday sworn personnel assigned to headquarters, the Force Review Division, and the Bureau of Internal Affairs began working days, afternoons and midnights to reduce contact. Beginning Thursday they will also begin a 4-2 schedule, meaning four days on and two days off.

DiFranco is the second city employee to die of COVID-19. Lightfoot announced Wednesday another city worker had died of the virus, but officials have not released that person’s name or the department where the employee worked.