Emergency dispatchers to sue Cook County for COVID-19 info

  • After Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the county's Department of Public Health declined to provide information on COVID-19-positive patients, the Northwest Central Dispatch System plans to go to court Friday.

      After Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the county's Department of Public Health declined to provide information on COVID-19-positive patients, the Northwest Central Dispatch System plans to go to court Friday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, April 2019

 
 
Updated 4/23/2020 8:31 PM

The Northwest Central Dispatch System plans to go to court Friday to try to get the Cook County Department of Public Health to release information on confirmed COVID-19 patients in the Northwest suburbs.

The anticipated filing of a temporary restraining order in Cook County circuit court follows an unsuccessful lobbying effort by the Arlington Heights-based dispatch system and elected officials in some of its 11 member communities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle turned down the request, while a resolution to provide addresses of COVID-19 patients sponsored by 14th District Commissioner Scott Britton of Glenview and five other county board members was sent to committee Thursday. That resolution earned letters of support from mayors and village presidents in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine and Wheeling.

"NWCDS truly had hoped that the County Board would take action to facilitate the release of the COVID-19 information to NWCDS at that meeting," dispatch system officials said in a news release. "Because the Cook County Board did not act to release COVID-19 information to the 911 center, NWCDS is moving forward with its legal action on April 24, 2020, and will request a hearing with a judge."

Officials from the dispatch system, which answers 911 calls for police and fire departments in the Northwest suburbs, argue that having information on coronavirus patients would increase the safety precautions paramedics, police and firefighters take before they arrive on emergency calls. Dispatchers planned to enter the information into their computer-aided dispatch system as "premise warnings" when sending police or fire responders to an address, but vowed to remove the information after an agreed amount of time.

In a conference call with reporters late Thursday afternoon, Preckwinkle defended the county health department's decision to withhold information on COVID-19 patients.

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"My personal position had been that we should follow Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines," Preckwinkle said. "My understanding is that those guidelines suggested that our first responders should assume that any residence that they go to is possibly infected by COVID-19 since 80% of the people who get the disease have either mild symptoms or are asymptomatic."

That's a similar view to that of the McHenry County Health Department, which declined to provide names of COVID-19 patients until McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim and four police departments sued earlier this month. A judge ruled that the names should be provided but must be kept confidential and purged from the 911 dispatch system seven days after the health department deems a patient no longer contagious.

Lake County Health Department officials also have opted not to provide patient information to police and first responders.

Cook County Corporation Counsel Laura Lechowicz Felicione said the county had yet to be served with a lawsuit but she is already coordinating with the health department and state's attorney's office on a formal response.

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