State’s attorney’s office reviewing coronavirus policy for staff, urging them to work from home

Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office is urging its employees to stay at home, foreshadowing future “COVID policy changes,” and hinting that another court shutdown is looming, according to an internal email obtained by the Tribune.

As courtrooms began to reopen over the summer, more prosecutors returned to the office, sometimes on a rotating basis. Now, employees designated as “stay-at-home staff” by their supervisors will need to get prior permission to come to the office.

The Friday morning memo did not mention a shift in the way staffers are informed of COVID cases within the office — which has been a common source of concern among rank-and-file staffers.

Other county entities, such as the chief judge’s office and the clerk of the Circuit Court, circulate regular memorandums notifying employees when a staffer tests positive. The memos include details about where the staffer worked and how many positive cases the offices have measured so far in the pandemic.

The state’s attorney’s office sent out at least one such memorandum in early March, telling employees that a staffer in the suburban Markham courthouse had “significant contact” with someone under investigation for coronavirus.

But the office has since stopped releasing those notifications officewide, instead saying it alerts individual employees who have had close contact with a staffer who tested positive.

Multiple prosecutors in different areas of the office told the Tribune that the notification system seems uneven and scattershot, leaving many staffers reliant on the rumor mill to find out who among them had been diagnosed with the virus. The rolling quarantines, the court shutdown and the immense case backlog have left many divisions of the state’s attorney’s office stretched thin.

At least once, attorneys were asked to fill in for colleagues in a different building without being told that the extra staff was needed since so many attorneys there had been quarantined, according to a source.

In an emailed response to questions from the Tribune, the state’s attorney’s office said they were “reviewing our COVID procedures and processes, including feedback from staff on our internal communications.” They did not answer questions about how many staffers had tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic or how many were currently quarantining.

As of Friday afternoon, Chief Judge Timothy Evans' office had not ordered any further shutdowns, though a rollback of certain operations is widely rumored as cases spike.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

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