CHICAGO — The city is paying for hotel rooms for first responders so they can keep their families safe during the pandemic.
The city will provide 274 rooms at Hotel Essex for first responders — including police officers, firefighters and paramedics — who are not sick but who worry they could bring the virus home to family members, friends or roommates, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Tuesday.
“It’s often said our first responders run towards danger, and that reality has never been more true than [during] these unprecedented times,” Lightfoot said. “We need them now more than ever.”
First responders are coming into contact with the virus daily, Lightfoot said, and the rooms will allow them to protect people they live with and take a “respite” if they think they’ve encountered a COVID-19 patient.
So far, 50 members of the Chicago Police Department have tested positive for coronavirus, and multiple members of the Fire Department have had confirmed cases.
It’s a “huge relief” to know firefighters and paramedics will have the rooms available if needed, said Jim Tracy, president of the local firefighters union.
Paramedics and firefighters “have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic,” Tracy said. “This is a fantastic weight off a lot of spouses’ shoulders … .”
The Fire Department also sped up training for a new batch of paramedics, who graduated Tuesday morning. Those 34 paramedics will be a “welcome sight” to other workers in the department, Tracy said.
Kevin Graham, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said officers are having conversations with their families about what they’ll do and where they’d go if they needed to isolate.
“They are concerned about their spouses. They are concerned about their children. With this hotel in place, it is one thing less they have to worry about,” Graham said. “Our members are working long hours. They are looking out for the public’s safety and they are putting their lives at risk.”
The city is working to make similar rooms available to health care workers. It’s already renting thousands of hotel rooms for people who are homeless and people who need to isolate because they have mild cases of the virus.
The city and Police Department have also made changes to promote social distancing among police officers during the pandemic. Roll calls are being handled differently and cadets were moved out of the academy and into police districts.
Still, more than 800 members of the Police Department called out sick Monday, about double the amount that calls out on an average workday.
Some called in sick because they have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to isolate, while others are caring for a sick family member or have a different health issue, said spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Officials are encouraging first responders to call in sick if they think they have symptoms of the virus.
“If people are feeling ill … they should stay home,” Graham said.
Lightfoot echoed him, adding, “If you’re sick, even a little bit, you should stay at home. That same applies to our first responders, our CTA workers, our sanitation workers … .”
Coronavirus can be deadly, but the vast majority of cases have been mild. Those most at risk from the virus are people who are elderly or who have underlying health conditions.
Symptoms of coronavirus can appear two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. People with no symptoms may have the virus and spread it to others.
The virus spreads between people through coughing and sneezing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The most common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
People have also experienced body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat, according to Harvard Medical School.
If you or someone else has difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, become confused, cannot be roused or develop a bluish face or lips, get immediate medical attention, according to the CDC.
How To Protect Yourself
The CDC only recommends those are already sick wear facemasks because they help you avoid spreading the virus.
Here’s what you can actually do to prevent getting ill:
- The CDC and other officials have said people should wash their hands often, including before, during and after eating; after using the bathroom; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
The CDC has a guide here for how to properly wash your hands. Remember: Wash with soap and water, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch frequently, like cellphones and light switches. Here are tips from the CDC.
- Stay home when you’re sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have to sneeze or cough with a tissue, throw it out immediately after using it, according to the CDC.
What To Do If You Think You’re Sick
Even if you’re not showing symptoms, the Chicago Department of Public Health recommends people coming from high-risk countries (here’s a CDC list) self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.
If you do have symptoms of coronavirus, contact your primary doctor or a health care facility before going in. Explain your symptoms and tell them if you’ve come into close contact with anyone with coronavirus or traveled to an area where COVID-19 is widespread (here’s a CDC list) within the last 14 days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
From there, the experts will work with your local health department to determine what to do and if you need to be tested for coronavirus, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
And, of course, if you think you’re sick with coronavirus, don’t risk exposing other people to the virus. Anyone who feels unwell has been ordered to stay home or risk getting a $500 fine.
Those with questions and concerns about coronavirus can call the Illinois Department of Public Health at 800-889-3931.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.