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6th Detainee And A Correctional Officer Die Of Coronavirus At Cook County Jail, One Of Largest Outbreaks In The U.S.

In total, 692 people connected to the jail have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Cook County Jail on April 11, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A Cook County Jail correctional officer and three more detainees have died since Sunday from coronavirus, the sheriff’s office confirmed.

Six detainees have now died at the jail, which has one of the largest of clusters of coronavirus cases nationwide, according to the New York Times. In total, 692 people connected to the jail have tested positive for coronavirus.

Of that total, 404 are detainees, according to the sheriff’s office. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 215 detainees are currently sick, including 17 who are being treated at local hospitals. Another 183 have recovered and are being monitored at the jail. Six have died.

Of that total, 288 are jail staffers — 185 correctional officers are currently sick with coronavirus, and 102 employees who previously tested positive have recovered and returned to work. One staffer has died.

Another correctional officer was found dead in their home and the sheriff’s office is investigating the cause, spokesman Matt Walberg said Tuesday.

Detainee Juan Salgado Mendoza, 53, died Monday at Stroger Hospital, where he had been hospitalized since April 13 after testing positive. He was accused of stabbing a woman in the neck during an argument November 2018 in Cicero, according to the sheriff’s office.

Detainee Rene Olivo, 42, died Sunday night at Saint Anthony Hospital, where he had had been hospitalized since March 30. Olivo was booked into the Cook County Jail on October 2019 on aggravated drunken driving charges. The charges violated his probation for a 2010 aggravated DUI and he was ordered to be held without bail. Olivo’s case was set for a bond hearing on March 25, but a judge did not release him, the sheriff’s office said.

Detainee Karl Battiste, 64, died Sunday at Stroger Hospital. He had been hospitalized since April 14 but didn’t test positive for coronavirus until April 19. He was booked into the jail in January and held without bond on a first-degree murder charge, according to the sheriff’s office.

Correctional officer Sheila Rivera 47, died Sunday at Resurrection Hospital. She had been sick with flu-like symptoms for a week before she tested positive, dying two days later, the Sun-Times reported.

Rivera had been with the department since 2012.

“Correctional staff like Officer Rivera are unsung heroes in the battle against this global pandemic, bravely working to keep their fellow colleagues, detainees, and the public safe from COVID-19,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The deaths come as Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart faces a wave of criticism for his office’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak within the jail. But the sheriff’s office said the large number of confirmed cases should be attributed to the office’s proactive and aggressive testing.

Teamsters Local 700 leaders, a union representing staff at the jail, have said officers have not had enough personal protective equipment to keep them safe from the disease.

The sheriff has transitioned most detainees at the jail to single cells to facilitate social distancing, and also created an off-site, 500-bed quarantine facility for detainees. But civil rights groups say those actions are not enough and are calling for broad releases of detainees who are bail-eligible or medically vulnerable to COVID-19 for their own safety.

As of April 9, the jail population had been reduced by 22 percent after a collaborative effort between the public defender’s office, the sheriff, the courts and the state’s attorney to release nonviolent pretrial detainees for their own safety. The jail population remains at over 4,000 detainees.

“The pace of release has been too slow to effectively mitigate the spread of this disease,” said Sharlyn Grace, executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund.

Several groups, including the Chicago Community Bond Fund and the MacArthur Justice Center, sued the sheriff in an attempt to achieve the mass release of detainees. A federal judge denied the initial emergency motion for release for procedural reasons, but the case is ongoing with closing arguments scheduled for Thursday.

The spread of coronavirus within jails, prisons and immigrant detention centers has been a rallying cry for justice reform advocates citywide. At the  federal Metropolitan Corrections Center, 23 inmates and 19 employees have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Sun-Times. Inmates have begun posting signs on their windows begging the public for help as the virus spreads through the prison.

Five deaths have also been reported at the Stateville Correctional Center in suburban Crest Hill.

“We weren’t given as much as a drop of hand sanitizer. … to receive any medical attention, you had to deteriorate to the point of being unresponsive,” said Raul Dorado, an inmate at Stateville. “Somebody had to die before the medical director would send anybody out to the emergency room.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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