Cook County Jail guard dies from  COVID-19, family says

Cook County Jail guard dies from COVID-19, family says

Sheila Rivera, left, with her mother, Rita Mettera, at a Choctaw tribal function.  | Provided

Corrections Officer Sheila Rivera, 47, died Sunday at Resurrection Hospital, just two days after testing positive for COVID-19, her brother said.

A Cook County corrections officer has died after contracting COVID-19, possibly the first jail guard to die from complications related to coronavirus, her relatives said.

Sheila Rivera, 47, died Sunday at Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, her brother said. According to her Facebook profile, Rivera had worked as a corrections officer since 2012. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office listed her cause of death as bronchopneumonia.

The sheriff’s office has so far reported 191 corrections officers who tested positive for COVID-19, and 215 detainees are currently positive, including 21 who are at area hospitals. Another 180 inmates who tested positive have been moved to a recovery area within the jail.

Rivera grew up in Tucker, Mississippi, a tiny hamlet on the Choctaw Indian Reservation where generations of her family had lived, her younger brother, Sonny Mattera said in a phone interview Monday.

Rivera’s first job in law enforcement was working for the Choctaw tribal police — where her fellow officers called her “Possum,” a nickname by which she became known to most residents of the reservation. She left the department briefly after the birth of her son, Isaiah, to take a less-risky job as a social worker, but returned to the force.

“Everyone here knew her, and there was never a bad word said about her,” Mattera said.

Rivera likely would have stayed on the tribal department, but met her husband, Nolan Rivera, at a law enforcement conference. Eventually, she moved to Chicago and worked as a social worker again until taking a job with the sheriff’s department.

“She didn’t think of [the jail] like this harsh terrible thing. I don’t think she really spoke about it badly,” Mattera said. “She liked helping people that were less fortunate than her, and she liked being a voice of reason for some of the people in there.

“She just kind of flipped back and forth between law enforcement and social work and I think that gave her a more of a sympathetic ear for someone in law enforcement.”

Rivera had been concerned about the spread of the coronavirus inside the jail, and complained to family about a lack of protective equipment, a rare departure from her usual happy-go-lucky demeanor, her brother said. Rivera noticed flu-like symptoms a week ago, and tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and went to the hospital.

Her symptoms worsened, though she was able to talk to her mother by phone as recently as Sunday morning. She died shortly after 8 p.m. that day, medical examiner records show. Because of the risk of spreading infection, her husband and son were not able to be in the hospital room with her.

“I just wish everyone would stay home and quarantine,” her brother said. “People are dying out there. My sister died alone in a hospital room.”

Funeral services will take place in Mississippi, her brother said.

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