Every Sunday for years, Gladys Frieson-Lucas and her sister, Patricia Frieson, walked from their 3-flat on South Throop street to their church home at Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church in Auburn Gresham.

Last year, COVID-19 altered that sisterly tradition forever when Frieson, 61, was hospitalized on March 12 with difficulty breathing. Turns out, she had contracted the novel coronavirus; a viral infection that had already begun spreading worldwide, but was still relatively misunderstood by both the general public and the CDC. 

After four days at University of Chicago Medical Center, Frieson passed away on March 16, 2020. She was the first known person to die from COVID-19 in Illinois.

“They wouldn’t let us see Pat when she passed. They had the whole hospital locked down,” Frieson-Lucas said. “That was really hard. I didn’t think that God would allow someone like Pat to catch a virus. She was a very religious person. I was confused.”

Photo of Patricia Frieson. Courtesy of her sister, Gladys Frieson-Lucas.

The day of Frieson’s death escalated public concern at the time. By that point, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker had already ordered all bars and restaurants to prepare to close indoor dining to the public. The day of Frieson’s passing is also the day another one of Frieson-Lucas’ four sisters, Wanda Bailey, admitted herself to the hospital with breathing issues. 

At his daily coronavirus briefing on March 17, 2020, Pritzker made the announcement about the death of Frieson who, he said, had also been in contact with another person who tested positive for the virus. Bailey, 63, spent nine days at St. James hospital in Olympia Fields, Ill. — with no visitors — before dying from COVID-19 on March 25, a mere four days after the statewide shutdown that left the streets of Chicago barren.

Frieson-Lucas was close with her sisters. Frieson was her neighbor, and all three attended the same church, so they were together often. When each sister went into the hospital, Frieson-Lucas was more hopeful for their recovery than fearful of their loss. She felt their faith in God would protect them.

“Our church was our favorite place,” Frieson-Lucas said in an interview with The TRiiBE on March 15, 2021, nearly a year later to the date of Frieson’s passing. The last time Frieson-Lucas visited their church home was July 2020. That was right around the time when Chicago moved into Phase 3 of it’s reopening plan, which included allowing people back at restaurants, bars, and other businesses as long as mask and social-distancing guidelines were enforced.

“We were still virtual, but my pastor liked to have a few people come into the sanctuary to lead praise and worship,” she said. There were about 10 people total in the building when she visited the sanctuary for the first time in over four months. The last time she went, she recalled, “there were about 30 people. Then, after that, the numbers went to spiking again.”


In July, Chicago’s positivity rate reached its lowest of 2020 at 3.7%, then began to creep back up throughout August and into the fall, reaching nearly 16% in early November. After a year of quarantine, and so much loss, Lucas said it is her faith in God that has allowed her to be more hopeful than fearful during the pandemic.

“I’m feeling just fine. Just been staying in the house a whole lot,” she said. “I don’t know what the Lord has in store for us, but He has had me all along.”

Lucas spent the rest of 2020 at home, and on the rare occasion she did go around people, it was her close family, always wearing a mask and refraining from physical affection. 

“And it’s been hard for me. I’m a hugger,” Lucas said, chuckling. “I have a little niece who I haven’t hugged since the pandemic started, who’s about five. She used to always love sitting on her Auntie Pat’s lap. I want to be able to hug her myself.”

When the COVID-19 vaccine became available in Chicago, she hesitated at the idea of receiving the shot. At age 68, she is high risk and eligible for vaccination in Illinois under Phase 1B of the vaccination plan. But as far as she was concerned, God had kept her safe to this point. What purpose did she have for a vaccine?

“I didn’t feel like I needed the vaccine myself, really. All this time I been feeling good. I thought I was just gone sit and watch the numbers wind down,” she said. She got her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine last week and is scheduled for her second before the month is out.

They wouldnt let us see Pat when she passed. They had the whole hospital locked down, Frieson-Lucas said.

She recalled being under the weather for a few days in the summer — coughing and a fever that was concerning, nothing incapacitating — but her test for the virus came back negative. “However, I started to think about how society would be more comfortable if I got the vaccine,” she said, changing her initial thoughts about receiving the vaccine. 

Today, as the COVID-19 positivity rate in Chicago is at 2.9%— just a hair off from last week’s record low of 2.7%— Frieson-Lucas is optimistic looking into the future but ultimately, in her eyes, the possibility of returning to a totally “reopened” world is in God’s hands.

“I can’t wait until they start opening the pools back up. I’m ready for when we can go to the hotel and hop in the pool.” she said. It’s the first thing she’s checking for once the recovery effort is at a point where she feels comfortable being out and about. “I feel comfortable in where the recovery is headed knowing I’m following my God.”

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.