Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart continues to address the threat of COVID-19 by implementing comprehensive precautionary measures across the Sheriff’s Office to ensure the health and safety of staff, individuals in custody and the public.
Sheriff Dart previously activated the office’s 24/7 Critical Incident Command Center, which has been tracking COVID-19 related concerns in the Sheriff’s Office. To date, there have been few concerns, and no known cases of COVID-19 at the Cook County Department of Corrections. Incident Command is also communicating with public health and law enforcement agencies about ways to help prevent the spread of the virus. Through these communications, our staff have also been kept updated on ways to protect themselves. The office also has the assistance of our former Department of Justice monitor Harry Grenawitzke, who is volunteering his time to work with the office on ways to reduce the virus’s impact at the jail. Harry is an environmental health expert with over 45 years of environmental health experience.
Additional measures Sheriff Dart has taken include:
• Requested additional Personal Protective Equipment from the federal government
• Established additional areas at the jail to be used for separation and quarantine, including opening previously closed buildings and requesting tents for outdoor areas
• Screening all new individuals in custody and persons arrested by the Sheriff’s Office with the Cook County Health COVID-19 questionnaire, including temperature checks
• The creation of receiving tiers where new individuals in custody coming into the DOC are housed together for seven days of observation. If they do not show symptoms of the virus, they are reviewed by Cermak medical for clearance to be moved to general population
• Round-the-clock communication with Cermak Health Services leadership
• Working to implement bond hearings via videoconferencing
• Prioritizing the service of orders of protections
• With the guidance of Cermak Health Services, using videoconferencing for individual in custody medical appointments when possible
• Creating contingency plans in the event of staff shortages
• Providing individuals in custody with 30 minutes of weekly free phone calls due to the suspension of social visits. This is in addition to being able to make their normal calls
• Continuing to enforce the Sheriff’s Office zero-tolerance policy for any violations of gun and violent offenders on electronic monitoring
• Screening all individuals entering court buildings for COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms will be denied entry and urged to seek medical attention
• Providing electronic monitoring participants with information about the symptoms of COVID-19, proper hand washing techniques, and how to request medical movement
• Increased availability of cleaning supplies across all departments
• Working with other stakeholders to reduce transportation of individuals in custody to court
• Providing daily data to the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office so that they can expedite bond review
• Airing messages for individuals in custody on televisions regarding the symptoms of COVID-19, proper hand washing techniques
• Airing messages for individuals in custody on televisions regarding court closures and contacting attorneys to address any concerns
• Posting messages to families on our website regarding canceling of visits and information regarding bond process
Sheriff Dart has been engaging with staff by making rounds in the Jail Divisions, Courts, and talking with Cermak Hospital. The staff has been amazing in these difficult times. He wants to personally thank Cermak Health Services for the tremendous cooperation and leadership. We continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and will do all we can to adjust measures as necessary to protect the staff, individuals in custody and the public.