While most Chicago residents are staying home to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19, the city’s first responders are as busy as ever. They’re among the essential workers who continue to work during the pandemic, and they’ve been hit hard. On Tuesday evening, the Chicago Fire Department lost its first member to the coronavirus: Mario Araujo, 49, died from complications of COVID-19 after serving on the force for 17 years.
Last week, Chicago police Officer Marco DiFranco died from the coronavirus. It’s considered a death in the line of duty, meaning his family is eligible for full benefits
The Chicago Police Department says 134 members have officially tested positive for COVID-19; another 46 members say they have tested positive but they haven’t been officially tested by the CPD.
Officers who don’t feel symptoms of the virus but may have been exposed to it — and don’t want to risk spreading it to family members — are able to stay for free at the Essex hotel downtown as part of a deal worked out by the city.
The police department has also had to deal with staffing issues. One day last week 800 officers called in sick — about 6% of the workforce. And recent springlike weather has caused a spike in crime, with 21 people shot and seven killed in an especially violent day Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Richard Ford says he’s not yet concerned about staffing levels among firefighters and paramedics. Ford also said the city’s fleet of emergency response vehicles is holding up well, even as a rising number of people reporting COVID-19 symptoms get transported to the hospital.
“Our manpower is fine right now,” Ford said. “W’re adjusting to what needs to be done to keep the city protected. We in fact have four ambulances that do nothing but COVID-19 runs, and that has covered 80% of the COVID runs we’ve had. We’re doing really well.”
One paramedic we spoke with said he’s worried about capacity in the event there are more days like Tuesday, when so many shooting victims were transported to area hospitals. He also said that paramedics who go on COVID-19 house calls have been given instructions to try and convince people to call their doctor unless they absolutely must be transported to the hospital.
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