Preckwinkle Issues Veto Of Resolution To Share Addresses Of COVID-Positive Individuals With First Responders

WBBM Newsradio Staff
May 26, 2020 - 1:12 pm

    CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a veto Tuesday striking down the Cook County Board resolution that would provide addresses of COVID-19 positive patients to first responders in Cook County Department of Public Health’s jurisdiction of suburban Cook County, which includes 127 municipalities and 2.5 million residents.

    Tuesday's veto marks the first veto action taken by President Preckwinkle in her tenure as Cook County Board President dating back to 2010.

    “We must rely on data and science to drive our decision-making while also encouraging first responders to take the same precautions they would going into any home,” President Preckwinkle said.

    On May 21, 2020, the Cook County Board of Commissioners narrowly passed Item No. 20-2378, that calls for Cook County Department of Public Health to temporarily share addresses of COVID-19 positive patients to municipal first responders through Public Safety Answering Point (“PSAP)” dispatch systems. 

    During the May 21 board meeting, President Preckwinkle responded to the vote calling it “discouraging and dismaying” to not listen to Cook County and State health experts who opposed the measure.

    As stated in the veto message, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has indicated that providing first responders and law enforcement with the “identity of positive COVID-19 cases has limited epidemiologic and infection control value and IDPH does not recommend notification to law enforcement of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

    Rather, IDPH recommends that first responders and law enforcement take appropriate protective precautions when responding to all calls.

    In Tuesday’s veto, President Preckwinkle writes:

    As the President of the Board and the Cook County Board of Public Health this veto is imperative because CCDPH has already considered and balanced the need to release appropriate information against the individuals’ strong and legitimate privacy expectations. Included among the privacy concerns CCDPH considers when releasing personal health information (“PHI”) in the context of communicable diseases generally, and specifically in the context of what information to release regarding COVID-19, are:

    • The potential stigma that individuals or groups may face because of their diagnosis. A classic example of this was the HIV/AIDS epidemic, in which overcoming stigma through public education and awareness was a major part of public health officials’ battle;
    • The potential for individual harassment;
    • The potential that information may be used by law enforcement to identify and target undocumented persons;

    The fact that such an approach tends to discourage individuals from coming forward to receive testing and treatment. Additionally, CCDPH has advised that current data indicates COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting black and brown communities.

    “I don't see how anyone who understands 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,” Preckwinkle added during last week’s board meeting.

    Black and Latinx residents are most at risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19, according to data provided by CCDPH. Cook County is seeing 3.5 times as many positive cases among Latinx residents, and almost 3 times as many positive cases among black residents, than our non-Hispanic white residents, according to CCDPH data.

    “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 said in Tuesday’s 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.”