Ald. Carrie Austin reveals she tested positive for the coronavirus

The City Council’s second-most-senior member is the highest ranking city of Chicago official known to have tested positive for COVID-19

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Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), shown at a City Council meeting in 2019, announced her retirement, effective March 1.

Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) tested positive for COVID-19 after a negative test earlier the same day.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Chicago’s second-most-senior alderman has tested positive for the coronavirus — after testing negative at a different hospital on the same day.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) tested positive last month after what sources described as a bleeding episode that initially appeared to signal complications from the surgery she had five years ago to repair a torn aorta that nearly killed her.

Sources said the 71-year-old Austin was taken by ambulance to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, where she tested negative for COVID-19. She was then transported by ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where the original surgery to repair the torn aorta had been conducted.

There, Austin was tested again. This time, the test came back positive, sources said. The veteran alderman, second in seniority only to indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th), was then transferred to a floor at Northwestern reserved for coronavirus patients in isolation.

She apparently remained there for awhile, and has missed the last two City Council meetings, both conducted online.

The source of the bleeding was not known.

Austin could not be reached for comment. It was not known whether she remains hospitalized or is recuperating at home.

Though COVID-19 is commonly associated with severe respiratory symptoms, coronavirus patients also can develop blood clots leading to serious blockages such as deep vein thrombosis, a pulmonary embolism and stroke.

Austin was bounced as Budget Committee chairman by Mayor Lori Lightfoot only to be appeased with a consolation prize — as chairman of the newly-created Committee on Contract Oversight and Equity.

On Monday, Lightfoot tweeted: “Keeping Alderman Carrie Austin and the rest of her family in my prayers. Alderman Austin is a fighter and I’m hoping for her to have a swift recovery.”

In a letter posted last week to her Facebook page, Austin informed constituents she had become the highest-ranking city official known to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Just want to drop a short health check update and let you know I’m doing well. ... For your information, I have been stricken by COVID-19 and currently progressing toward full recovery,” Austin wrote in a “Dear Residents & Neighbors” letter.

The letter makes no other mention of her latest health scare, except to express her gratitude to those “who have reached out to check up on my well being. … Your acts of kindness were warmly appreciated.”

Five years ago, Austin choked back tears as she talked in surprising detail about the health crisis that nearly killed her. It was stunning in an era when HIPPA laws allow public officials to conceal the true nature of their health issues.

“I tore my aorta. I almost wasn’t here. But I’m grateful that God allowed me to be here. I was in the hospital 29 days. For the first two weeks, I was unconscious. I was in a coma. Blood pressure went up over 300. The bottom number was 205. They couldn’t bring it down. But I’m grateful for the God that I serve because I’m sitting here today,” Austin said on that day as her colleagues applauded.

“When I came home, I was home a week. The rest of it was tearing. It was tearing [near] my spine. I went to the hospital at Northwestern. I got three stents. So, I’m doing pretty good unless it decides to go the other way. Then, it’ll be instant death. But if it happens, I’m ready to see the Lord because I have served him all of my life.”

Austin’s finances have been in the spotlight since June 2019 after she was named in a federal grand jury subpoena seeking records regarding her latest home purchase and her campaign contributions, and FBI agents lugged out files and equipment from her Far South Side Ward office. 

The subpoena also sought “items related to . . . employees, family members.”

Two months later, Austin called the Sun-Times to complain about a weekend story by the Watchdogs detailing the 14 times that Austin and her six children and stepchildren have declared bankruptcy, often while holding government jobs. She tearfully portrayed herself on that day as a victim of political and media “persecution” and questioned why she and her family were being dragged “through the mud.”

Austin subsequently expressed confidence that the ongoing federal investigation would not end with any indictments either of her or her relatives, employees or associates.

What makes her so sure?

“Faith. I try to live my life above board. If I haven’t, then I have to reckon that with God, not man,” she said then.

“I haven’t been charged with anything. … They’re looking to see if am I associated with something. I am not.”

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