The day after her husband died on Easter Sunday, Cassandra Greer-Lee’s emotions swung from shock to pain to confusion. She wondered whether she did everything she could to save Nickolas Lee from the rapid spread of coronavirus inside Cook County Jail.

She thought of the long stream of calls she had frantically dialed over the past few weeks as Cook County Jail rapidly cemented itself as the largest-known source of coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Scrolling through her calls, the numbers ballooned from 60 to 70 to 90 to 100 to finally 132 calls made to the sheriff’s office, a jail sergeant’s desk line, the jail hospital and others to alert them to the spread of coronavirus on Lee’s tier—almost all were unanswered.

Lee was the third of seven detainees who have died after contracting the virus at Cook County Jail. Since then, almost 1,000 Cook County Jail employees and detainees have tested positive for COVID-19; two corrections officers and one court deputy have also died.

Like 98 percent of inmates at Cook County Jail, Lee was awaiting trial.



Nickolas Lee was struggling to breathe, much less hold up his end of the conversation as he talked on the phone with his wife Saturday night from a Stroger Hospital bed.

“I told him a lot of people are beating this thing, and he was going to be one of them,” Cassandra Greer-Lee told her high school sweetheart.

The 42-year-old, who had been transferred to Stroger from the Cook County Jail just six days earlier, died Sunday morning.

Lee ended up in jail in February for a 2018 armed robbery — a case he thought he had a good shot of beating.

But in March, he noticed two detainees on his tier had the flu-like symptoms that sounded like what his wife had been telling him were telltale signs of an illness spreading across the globe. A few days later, he came down with a sore throat. Chills, muscle aches and a loss of sense of smell and taste followed.

He tested positive for COVID-19. A week later, he was transported from the jail’s Cermak medical facility to Stroger, where he died of cardiac arrest likely caused by complications related to coronavirus.

He was the third Cook County Jail detainee to die after contracting COVID-19.

“I feel like I lost the battle for my husband,” Greer-Lee said Thursday as she stood across the street from the jail. “I never expected my husband to be let out of jail because of [COVID-19], but I did want him to be kept healthy and breathing.”