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Cook County health department investigating large wedding held at Hilton Chicago/Northbrook hotel on day state marked highest number of COVID-19 deaths

Thursday, December 03, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Health officials are investigating a large, mostly maskless gathering held at the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook Hotel Wednesday night — the same day Illinois passed a grim COVID-19 milestone.

Photos and videos of the event first reported by CBS 2 show crowded rooms full of people hugging, eating, drinking and talking in close proximity, the vast majority of whom were not wearing masks. The event was a wedding with about 150 guests in attendance, according to officials.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer and co-lead for the Cook County Department of Public Health said during a news conference Thursday that she felt “profound dismay” after hearing about the wedding.

“This event should not have happened,” she said. “It’s put a lot of individuals in danger.”

The wedding occurred on the same day Illinois public health officials reported 9,757 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 238 COVID-19 deaths, the most deaths in a single day since the pandemic began.

County officials said they are now investigating. According to the health department, violations of the state order banning indoor dining and other indoor congregations such as this could lead to arrest, a fine of $1,000 per offense and further actions.

Rubin and fellow senior medical officer and co-lead Dr. Kiran Joshi released a joint statement prior to the news conference to highlight the gravity of the situation, according to department officials.

“We are appalled that this event was allowed to proceed,” they said in the joint statement. “We are considering citing the hotel and are investigating our legal options today.”

According to Rubin, officials are still discussing legal options, but notices of violation would be issued to the hotel and other possible organizations involved, such as caterers or wedding planners, rather than the individuals at the wedding.

“They should know the rules,” she said of the facility hosting the event.

The notice will most likely not result in a fine initially, but the hotel will be watched carefully moving forward to see if more instances of violation occur. A health department senior inspector was at the hotel Thursday to examine the rest of the hotel’s operations and management, Rubin said.

Rubin said she views the wedding as a “potential super-spreader” event.

To the health department’s knowledge, no one at the wedding had a positive confirmed case, but with a large percentage of asymptomatic infections and high community spread, Rubin said they expect some of the attendees to have been positive without knowing.

She recommended that everyone at the wedding, including servers and planners, as well as those who were at the hotel unrelated to the wedding, should quarantine for 14 days.

The health department will request a guest list from the wedding party, Rubin said. They will either reach out to the individuals directly or communicate through the wedding party that those in attendance should quarantine. She said the department will not contact trace unless someone tests positive, but if someone does test positive, they would then be able to reference the guest list or the event to find close contacts.

Hilton corporate officials said the Northbrook location is independently owned and operated, and they have connected with the hotel’s ownership to address expectations with them.

“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,” corporate officials said in a statement.

Calls made directly to the Northbrook hotel for comment were not immediately returned.

The Hilton website emphasizes a “clean stay,” with frequent disinfection of rooms and public spaces, a requirement of face coverings in all indoor public areas and “a higher standard” to host events.

“This incident is not representative of our portfolio of hotels and the extraordinary levels of hospitality offered by our hard-working team members every day,” corporate office officials said in a statement.

The hotel, 2855 Milwaukee Ave., has a Northbrook address and ZIP code, but it falls under the jurisdiction of nearby Prospect Heights, according to Prospect Heights City Administrator Joe Wade.

Wade said the event was not initially reported to local police at the time but they are now following up with further investigation.

Regarding the wedding’s impact on his city, Wade said he continues to urge residents to maintain safe practices and avoid large gatherings. He encouraged residents to watch for any symptoms in the coming weeks.

“Be careful, and try to be thoughtful,” he said. “Be safe with each other.”

The Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents hotels across the state, issued a statement in response to the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook Hotel’s decision to host the event, calling it unacceptable.

“When I found out about this situation, I subsequently contacted public health officials to determine the appropriate next steps and reminded hotel management that they must abide by the Tier 3 mitigations and safety protocols to ensure the health of their employees and guests,” said Michael Jacobson, the organization’s president and CEO, in a statement. “In addition, we have reached out to our hotel membership across the state to once again stress the importance of abiding by all health and safety guidelines.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Twitter: @kaitlinedquist

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