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Hotel Essex Providing 274 Rooms For First Responders Fighting Coronavirus Outbreak

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs continue to work on the front lines of the city's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, a downtown hotel is making its 274 rooms available to first responders worried about possibly taking the virus home to their families.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is paying for the rooms at the Hotel Essex, at 800 S. Michigan Av., to give first responders a safe place to stay during the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's often said that our first responders run towards danger, and that reality has never been more true in these unprecedented times. We need to continue to rally as a city to support all of our first responders, because we need them now more than ever," Lightfoot said.

The hotel rooms will not be used for first responders who are sick, but rather to provide them a place to rest away from their families, if they are worried about possibly transmitting the virus to their loved ones.

"The reality is that they are coming into contact with the virus every day, and working long, hard hours; and some of them may prefer to stay downtown, rather than going home to their spouse, kids, parents, or friends," Lightfoot said.

The mayor said the city will soon announce similar supports for the city's healthcare workers.

"We must do everything we can to be responsive to the needs of our heroes on the front lines of this fight; our healthcare workers and our first responders," she said.

Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 president Jim Tracy and Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president Kevin Graham said many members of the Police Department and Fire Department are concerned that, although they might not feel sick, they might have caught COVID-19 on the job, and don't want to bring it home with them at the end of their shifts.

"It's a huge relief for our members and their families to know that the Essex Hotel is going to have a room for them," Tracy said. "This is a fantastic weight off of a lot of our spouses' shoulders, knowing that there's someplace that their husband and wife can go to, and not have to come home after a long day."

Graham said his wife is a physician, and they have had conversations about which one of them will stay home, and which of them will go somewhere else, if one of them ends up contracting the new coronavirus.

"These are conversations that are going on in households, they are going on in [FOP] members' homes," he said. "They are concerned about their spouses, they are concerned about their children, and so with this hotel in place, it is one thing less that they have to worry about."

Lightfoot noted that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is doubling approximately every couple days now in Illinois, and isn't expected to peak until sometime next month.

"There's no sugarcoating this; the numbers are going to get worse before they get better, but we've been working around the clock to ensure our city has been able to stay on top of this crisis, and stay ahead of the need and the capacity in our hotels," she said.

The mayor and union leaders acknowledged there have been many sick calls among police officers and firefighters since the COVID-19 outbreak, but they said that's to be expected with first responders not being able to stay at home like most other people during the pandemic.

"The reality is that this disease doesn't discriminate; it doesn't discriminate by race, geography, or otherwise," Lightfoot said.

Like anyone else who is sick during the outbreak, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs should stay home if they feel even minor symptoms of the virus.

"We have asked our members, if you are feeling ill, if you do not think you should be at work, be on the medical. There's nothing wrong with that," Graham said.

The mayor said, while first responders are essential workers who need to stay on the job during the pandemic, they need to follow the same advice as anyone else, and stay home to care for themselves if they are sick, and return to work only when they're healthy again.

Meantime, Mayor Lightfoot said she has seen improved compliance with the governor's "stay at home" order since she closed the lakefront, the Chicago Riverwalk, and the 606 trail last week, after seeing too many people gathering in those places in large groups, despite the mandate to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

"The city has responded remarkably well," she said.

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