A Cook County corrections officer died after contracting COVID-19, the first officer at the Southwest Side jail to die from complications related to coronavirus.
Sheila Rivera, 47, died Sunday at Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, her brother said. She had worked as a corrections officer since 2012, and last worked a shift at the jail on April 5, according to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office.
In an emailed statement, sheriff’s spokeswoman Sophia Ansari called jail officers “unsung heroes in the battle” against coronavirus.
“Our hearts are broken over the loss of Officer Rivera, and we send our deepest condolences to her family and loved ones,” the statement said.
Six jail detainees have also died from complications related to coronavirus this month.
The sheriff’s office has so far reported 185 corrections officers who tested positive for COVID-19, and 215 detainees who are currently positive, including 17 who are at area hospitals. Another 183 inmates who previously tested positive have been moved to a recovery area within the jail.
Rivera grew up in Tucker, Mississippi, a tiny hamlet on the Choctaw Indian Reservation where generations of her family had lived, her younger brother, Sonny Matterra said in a phone interview Monday.
Rivera’s first job in law enforcement was working for the Choctaw tribal police — where her fellow officers called her “Possum,” a nickname by which she became known to most residents of the reservation. She left the department briefly after the birth of her son, Isaiah, to take a less-risky job as a social worker, but returned to the force.
“Everyone here knew her, and there was never a bad word said about her,” Matterra said.
Rivera likely would have stayed on the tribal department, but met her husband, Nolan Rivera, at a law enforcement conference. Eventually, she moved to Chicago and worked as a social worker again until taking a job with the sheriff’s department.
“She didn’t think of [the jail] like this harsh terrible thing. I don’t think she really spoke about it badly,” Matterra said. “She liked helping people that were less fortunate than her, and she liked being a voice of reason for some of the people in there.
“She just kind of flipped back and forth between law enforcement and social work and I think that gave her a more of a sympathetic ear for someone in law enforcement.”
Rivera had been concerned about the spread of the coronavirus inside the jail, and complained to family about a lack of protective equipment, a rare departure from her usual happy-go-lucky demeanor, her brother said. Rivera noticed flu-like symptoms a week ago, and tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and went to the hospital.
Her symptoms worsened, though she was able to talk to her mother by phone as recently as Sunday morning. She died shortly after 8 p.m. that night from bronchopneumonia, Cook County medical examiner’s office records show.
Because of the risk of spreading infection, her husband and son were not able to be in the hospital room with her.
“I just wish everyone would stay home and quarantine,” her brother said. “People are dying out there. My sister died alone in a hospital room.”
Funeral services will take place in Mississippi, her brother said.