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Chicago woman, 61, is first coronavirus death in Illinois

Patricia Frieson had an underlying medical condition and had contact with someone else who had been contaminated with the coronavirus, officials said. She was not a nursing home resident.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has a property tax controversy of his own.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, speaking at the Thompson Center Tuesday, announced the first Illinois death from the novel coronavirus.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Illinois’ battle against the coronavirus reached a grim new level on Tuesday with the first death, a cluster of cases at a DuPage County nursing home and a spike of 55 new cases.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office identified the death as Patricia Frieson, a 61-year-old woman who lived in Gresham. She died Monday night at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Frieson had an underlying medical condition and had contact with someone else who had been contaminated with the coronavirus, officials said. She was not a nursing home resident.

Her case was part of an ongoing investigation. The Chicago Department of Public Health had been “monitoring her condition for some time.”

The spike in cases brings to 160 the number of coronavirus cases in Illinois.

The barrage of bad news was announced by an exhausted and grim-faced Gov. J.B. Pritzker during a news briefing at the Thompson Center.

“I’m deeply saddened to share news that I have dreaded since the earliest days of this outbreak: the first COVID-19-related death in Illinois,” Pritzker told reporters.

“I want to extend my deepest condolences to her family members. I want them to know that the entire state of Illinois mourns with them. May her memory be a blessing.”

The governor then discussed the spike in cases at a DuPage County nursing home, identified as the Chateau Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Willowbrook by the Daily Herald, where a state infectious control team was dispatched Saturday after a patient tested positive for the virus.

Tests of all facility residents and employees have, so far, revealed 22 confirmed cases — 18 residents and four staff members. All are now isolated at the facility, where visitors have been restricted, or at a hospital, the governor said.

The outbreak underscores how critical it is that Illinois get “approvals and supplies” from the federal government “so we can test large groups of vulnerable people earlier than we are able to now,” Pritzker said.

Sounding a familiar theme, the governor said he and his staff have been on the phone “day and night” with the medical testing supply chain. But, he argued, the federal government is “monopolizing supplies and not providing them to the states.”

“They set deadlines and they blew through them. They told us capacity would increase and it hasn’t. The powerhouse research institutions here in Illinois ... are lending their own world-class resources to the fight against COVID-19. But they’re running into the same roadblocks,” the governor said.

“This is an incredible failure by the federal government. And every day they continue to abdicate their responsibilities is another day that we fall behind. I’ve requested — and now I’m demanding — that the White House, the FDA, the CDC produce a rapid increase in test deployment nationwide or get out of the way and allow us to obtain them elsewhere ourselves.”

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said residents of the DuPage County nursing home are still being actively screened — “sometimes every two hours,” with health care professionals “looking for fever or respiratory symptoms, monitoring oxygen saturations.”

The nursing home spike underscores the need to restrict access to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, she said.

“These residents are sitting in what is their home. It’s the virus that is being brought in to them — either by visitors or by staff. And that is why we have taken the aggressive measures to say that visitor restrictions have to be in place. That is why pre-shift assessments for all staff coming in have to be in place to make sure that staff who are coming in to care for these residents are not unwittingly harming the people they’re charged to care for,” Ezike said.

Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the state’s first death and the nursing home cases underscore her “strong messaging” since day one.

“We’re focusing our attention on older individuals and those with underlying health conditions. ... So please, if you fall into this category, stay home if at all possible — even if you’re feeling fine,” she said.

“And I want to ask everyone else to help out with this. ... Your parents, your grandparents, your friend who may be older, your neighbor with an underlying health condition. Make sure they’re staying home. ... Ask if you can help bring them groceries. Ask if there’s anything else they might need. We all have a role to play — especially if you are young and healthy—in helping stem the spread of this virus.”

The news in Illinois is certain to get worse as the level of testing increases. The governor was asked whether he was considering, even stricter measures — perhaps a shelter-in-place quarantine — to stop community spread.

He has already closed schools, bars and dine-in restaurants and outlawed all public gatherings of more than 50 people.

“I’m continuing to consult with medical doctors and the scientists about this. ... Guidance that has come forward from the CDC and others has changed, really from day to day. There’s been an increasing concern about the numbers of people who gather and the potential for passing coronavirus from one person to another,” he said.

“So we’re gonna continue to evaluate that every day and consider what options we may need to take going forward.”

Despite the grim news at Tuesday’s briefing, Pritzker found a ray of hope.

“We lost an Illinoisan today. There are going to be moments during the next few weeks and months when this burden feels like it is more than we can bear. But, we will bear it. We will get through it,” he said.

“We will thrive and celebrate and gather and paint the river green for St. Patrick’s Day and have weddings and parties and election-night rallies again. And for the time being, we will be strong. Because that’s what this moment calls for. And that’s what I know we’re capable of.”