CHICAGO (CBS) — In her first veto since taking office, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has vetoed a resolution that would have required public health officials to share the addresses of confirmed coronavirus patients with first responders in suburban Cook County.
The resolution approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners last week would have required the Cook County Department of Public Health to disclose the addresses of COVID-19 patients with 911 dispatchers in suburban Cook County for the next 60 days.
Tuesday morning, Preckwinkle issued her first veto since taking office in 2010 to block the resolution. It would take 11 votes to override her veto.
“I cannot support the release of this information and am wholly disappointed in the decision to dispute the opinions of our public health experts, including the advice provided by CCDPH’s medical expert, Dr. Rachel Rubin,” Preckwinkle wrote in her veto message.
Rubin had advised the board not to approve the measure.
“Every individual that a first responder comes in contact with, you should assume that they are positive,” said Rubin. “From a health standpoint this is basically not good practice.”
Preckwinkle said the Illinois Department of Public Health also has advised that sharing such information with first responders has limited value in slowing the spread of COVID-19, and instead recommends first responders take appropriate protective precautions when responding to any calls.
“Our continued goal should be to support and listen to our public health experts and continue to work with our federal and State partners to utilize universal precautions in order to help protect our first responders and law enforcement partners,” Preckwinkle wrote in her veto message.
The ACLU of Illinois applauded Preckwinkle’s veto, after having expressed concerns the resolution could discourage people from seeking testing and treatment for the virus, out of fear of being put on a law enforcement list.
“Because of a lack of adequate testing, first responders should approach every call with the notion that everyone is positive for the virus. Relying on testing as the only metric ignores the reality that the virus can be spread by those who are asymptomatic and that those tested positive and were treated may no longer spread the disease,” ACLU of Illinois executive director Colleen Connell said in a statement. “Most important, by creating lists of those who test positive to share with law enforcement and other first responders, the County may have discouraged many in Cook County from seeking testing and treatment. This fear will be especially pronounced in communities of color, the very populations that are being affected the most directly by COVID-19.”
The resolution would not have impacted the city of Chicago, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed her disapproval in a series of tweets last week.
“This allows local law enforcement to maintain databases of those impacted by this horrible virus, under the cynical guise of public safety,” Lightfoot wrote. “We will never allow this to become law in Chicago, just as we will never allow people to be stigmatized and put at risk for being denied services or seeking assistance and support. This is a terrible decision. The people responsible should be ashamed and the rest of us outraged.”
This allows local law enforcement to maintain databases of those impacted by this horrible virus, under the cynical guise of public safety.
— Mayor Lightfoot #StayHomeSaveLives (@chicagosmayor) May 22, 2020
Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis, who is also president of the South Suburban Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents about 70 municipalities, last week said he was “kind of blindsided by the opposition” to the resolution.
He said it’s impractical for first responders to be wearing full personal protective gear to every call, and they’re just looking as much information as possible. But there are people who weren’t ever tested or are asymptomatic who won’t be on the list.
“No intel is going to be 100%,” said Davis. “It’s not about targeting anybody. It’s not about doing anything like that. It’s totally about giving our officers as much information as we possibly can to make sure that we’re allowing them to be safe.”