coronavirus illinois

3rd Detainee at Chicago's Jail Dies After Contracting Coronavirus

As of Sunday evening, 306 detainees at the jail had tested positive for the virus

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A third detainee at Cook County Jail in Chicago has died after contracting COVID-19, officials announced Sunday, with hundreds of others infected by the coronavirus at one of the nation's largest jails.

Nicholas Lee, 42, was pronounced dead Sunday at Stroger Hospital, where he had been hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

A ruling on the cause and manner of his death was pending an autopsy, but preliminary reports indicate he died of cardiac arrest, the sheriff’s office said.

Lee's death comes after families of offenders and health care workers have pleaded for some inmates to be released.

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As of Sunday evening, 306 Cook County Jail detainees had tested positive for the virus, with 20 of those individuals being monitored at local hospitals. Additionally, 218 staff members at the jail have tested positive. The New York Times reported last week that Cook County Jail was the site of the largest cluster of coronavirus cases in the nation. Across the country, more than 1,300 confirmed coronavirus cases are linked to prisons and jails, according to the Times' tally.  

On Sunday, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office also announced it created an off-site, 500-bed quarantine and care facility for detainees and moved detainees from double cells to single cells in an effort to increase social distancing,

The New Roseland Community Hospital is also providing on-site testing for staff, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

On Thursday, another detainee, 51-year-old Leslie Pieroni, was pronounced dead at St. Anthony’s Hospital, where he had been hospitalized since April 3 after testing positive for COVID-19.

A ruling on the cause and manner of Pieroni’s death was pending an autopsy, but preliminary reports indicate he died as a result of complications from the coronavirus, the sheriff’s office said.

The same day of Pieroni’s death, a federal judge handed down a series of mandates designed to keep detainees at the jail safe from the coronavirus.

Nurses said last week that treatment inside the jail is at a "minimum," the virus is quickly spreading because of the conditions, and some inmates should be released due to the virus' spread.

"We feel like it's okay for us to die," said Elizabeth Lalasz, a registered nurse at Stroger Hospital. "We feel that unsafe."

Michelle Harris, whose brother Kenneth Foster is an inmate at the jail, worries he will contract the virus because of the conditions in his cell.

"My brother complains that he’s being eaten up every day by the bed bugs," Harris told NBC 5 last week. "He’s crying out, ‘Please help me! Please get me out of here!’”

Foster has been locked up in the jail without bond since November following his second arrest for driving without a license.

"My brother did not kill anyone," Harris said. "He did not rob anyone. He's in there just because of traffic violations.”

NBC 5 reached out to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart about the conditions in the jail and in a statement he said the sheriff's office continues "to work round-the-clock to aggressively combat the spread of coronavirus."

“Everything Sheriff’s officers and county medical professionals have done since before the virus started spreading in the Chicago area was in an effort to prevent the loss of life to this deadly virus,” the sheriff’s office said in a new statement. “We will continue to work round-the-clock to aggressively combat the spread of COVID-19.”

A week ago, 59-year-old Jeffrey Pendleton was the first detainee reported to have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

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