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COVID In Illinois: Massive Northbrook Hotel Wedding Reception Called Potential 'Super-Spreader Event' By Cook County Health Department

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (CBS) -- A weekday wedding reception at a hotel in unincorporated Northbrook is being called a potential "super-spreader event" by county health officials and the hotel could face civil citations.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, the Cook County Department of Public Health said the wedding put lives in danger.

Hundreds of people crowded into a hotel ballroom on Wednesday, toasting newlyweds. It was a story that CBS 2 aired exclusively Wednesday night and that county public health officials saw: The bride walked into a room filled with hundreds on her special day. All eyes were on her, and no masks were on to block the smiles.At the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook, CBS 2 saw no social distancing at the wedding – and the groups of people walking about without masks. Only a sparing number of people covered up.

"Profound dismay," said Dr. Rachel Rubin, Senior Medical Officer at the Cook County Department of Public Health. "This event should not have happened. It's put a lot of individuals in danger."

Rubin spoke after watching the CBS 2 story showing how the wedding blatantly broke COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

"They violated the order for indoor dining," Rubin said. "They also violated the state ordinance or state order that went out related to limiting large events."

Wedding guests and staff alike are being told to quarantine, and the county already preparing for positive COVID-19 cases.

"We will be requesting a guest list, and assuming we receive that, we will try and reach out to as many individuals that we can," Rubin said. "I do see it as a potential super-spreader event."

Rubin and fellow Cook County Department of Public Health Senior Medical Officer and co-lead Dr. Kiran Joshi said in a statement that they are "considering citing the hotel and are investigating our legal options today."

"We need to focus on the people that were there at the wedding, but also, this is important for the hotel to know so that they can clean those rooms thoroughly," Rubin said.

It was estimated Wednesday night that there were 200 to 300 guests, despite the state putting a stop to all private parties and ballroom gatherings.

Photos provided to CBS 2 show a crammed cocktail hour – where friends and family embraced and the appetizers were finger-licking good.

On Thursday night, De Mar heard from a band member who performed at the wedding. The band member said he felt completely unprotected surrounded by a group of maskless people, and now is concerned that he may have been exposed.

"I thought this was the craziest environment I've been in since the pandemic," said Jeff Yang.

Yang, a freelance violinist, performed at the wedding and was assured that COVID-19 safety measures would be in place.

"We were going to have Plexiglas to separate us and the guests, and when we got there there's basically none of that," he said.

As far as whether the guests were wearing masks, Yang said, "Very few - some of the children were, but very few people."

Indeed, our exclusive video of the wedding backs that up – no masks for hugs and laughs. People were also seen eating inside despite the states ban on indoor dinning.

"It was just utter shock that at this point that we have such high deaths around the U.S. and Illinois, that no one seems concerned about it," Yang said.

De Mar asked Yang why he thought it was important for him to say something.

"Just for a fellow man - I feel bad for the people that were getting married," Yang said. "We should just be careful, because this is no joke."

The Hilton in Northbrook is independently-run. Hotel leadership was named in a 2017 foreclosure case.

Hilton Chicago/Northbrook General Manager Holly Allgauer-Cir released the following statement late Thursday afternoon, placing the head count at 150 rather than the 200 to 300 that we observed based on a count and information from people inside.

"Last evening, the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook hosted a family wedding with approximately 150 people in attendance. While the event was booked prior to the implementation of the state's latest mitigation measures, we sincerely regret allowing this gathering to proceed and our family apologizes to our guests, employees, and the Chicagoland community.

"The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for the hospitality industry and our family-owned business. However, our hope to keep the hotel afloat and employees working should not outweigh health and safety.

"We are committed to working with state and local health authorities to ensure our hotel is abiding by all safety measures and mitigation guidelines. We immediately reviewed our bookings to ensure any business that is inconsistent with the state's guidelines are not held at this property, and we are committed to following contact tracing and testing protocols recommended by health officials.

"It will take time, but we hope to rebuild the trust of our guests, staff and community have placed in us for so many years."

A corporate spokesperson for Hilton said Thursday:  "The safety and wellbeing of our guests and Team Members has always been and remains our top priority. We were shocked to learn that one of our independently owned and operated hotels chose to host an event that disregarded both local regulations and Hilton's brand standards. We immediately connected with the hotel's ownership to understand the facts and are now addressing our expectations with them directly."

Gov. JB Pritzker said he was "deeply concerned for the people who attended that wedding."

"I understand that people were in very close proximity from one another. I understand that those people will go home, or back into their communities, and may have in fact infected other people. And this is very concerning to all of us. At a moment when we have rampant COVID-19 throughout Illinois, community spread, here we have people who are, in a concentrated fashion, have the ability now to go spread it to everywhere that they return to," he said.

The governor said he hopes everyone who attended that wedding will now self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19.

Pritzker said he's been in contact with the Cook County Department of Public Health to make sure they're following up on the incident.

"It's very irresponsible, and it's also irresponsible of the hotel to host an event like that. They, too, have breached the rules, and they should be held responsible," he said.

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