Towns seek COVID-19 patient names from Cook County

  • Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson criticized Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for refusing to provide names of COVID-19 patients to Northwest suburban 911 dispatchers. Johnson is pictured during a 2015 ribbon cutting event in Busse Woods attended by Preckwinkle, third from right.

    Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson criticized Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for refusing to provide names of COVID-19 patients to Northwest suburban 911 dispatchers. Johnson is pictured during a 2015 ribbon cutting event in Busse Woods attended by Preckwinkle, third from right. Daily Herald File Photo, 2015

 
 
Updated 4/15/2020 7:01 PM

Northwest Central Dispatch System and Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson want the Cook County Department of Public Health to release the names of people with the coronavirus to local first responders, but the request has so far been denied.

The rejection -- which Johnson said came from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle -- led the mayor to accuse the county's chief executive of being "more concerned about convicted criminals than first responders" after the release of some inmates from the jail over COVID-19 concerns.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"No one wants guards in prisons or anybody to get sick," Johnson said Wednesday. "But to put the priority of a convicted known criminal above protecting our first responders I think is insulting and embarrassing for her office."

A Preckwinkle spokesman referred comment to the health department, which did not respond Wednesday.

Johnson and officials from the Arlington Heights-based dispatch system, which answers 911 calls for 11 Northwest suburban towns including Elk Grove Village, say having information on coronavirus patients would help increase the safety precautions paramedics, police and firefighters take before they arrive on an emergency call.

The debate follows a similar controversy last week in McHenry County, where Sheriff Bill Prim -- along with police departments in Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Woodstock and the city of McHenry -- sought the names of those infected with COVID-19 from the county health department.

Officials at the health agency argued that providing names would "confer a false sense of security" to police, who they said should be taking extra protective steps with all people they encounter.

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After the department refused, the sheriff filed suit. A judge ruled last Friday that the names must be provided. But they must be kept confidential and purged from the 911 dispatch system seven days after the health department deems a patient no longer contagious, the judge ordered.

Johnson said he plans to push Cook County harder, even if it means similarly going to court.

"If we have to take the next step, we will," he said.

John Ferraro, executive director of the Northwest Central Dispatch System, said for now his staff continues to negotiate with county health officials. Even if names are not released, knowing the addresses where there have been COVID-19-related illnesses would be helpful. Ferraro said.

Also up for discussion with the county, Ferraro said, is the amount of time a name or address could remain in the dispatch computer system, with an expiration date of perhaps seven or 10 days.

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