In an emergency meeting Friday morning, March 13, Oak Park village board voted unanimously to declare a local public health emergency in light of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, and the rapidly changing challenges associated with it.
“These are unprecedented times, not just for Oak Park and for our country, but for the world,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. “Coronavirus first is a health crisis, but it’s also an economic crisis. Both can have devasting effects on our families, on our businesses and our communities.”
The quickly escalating COVID-19 situation has prompted schools, libraries, parks and other institutions throughout the country to close temporarily. Many businesses have limited operations, while people practice “social distancing” to avoid contact with the virus. Those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 are being ordered to self-quarantine.
“Every day that goes by without us taking certain measures to stop the spreading of the virus is a day lost in winning the war – yes, winning the war – against this invisible enemy,” Abu-Taleb said.
The mayor continued, saying that acting fast now could prevent or delay thousands of infections.
“We need to protect the most vulnerable,” he said.
Coronavirus poses the highest risk to older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The state of Illinois and Cook County have also issued emergency proclamations concerning the virus.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek told the board that village staff, as of March 3, has implemented organizational and operational changes in concurrence with CDC guidelines.
“We are slowing and suspending nonessential activities with a focus on operations that do not support the public health department’s work related to COVID-19,” Pavlicek said.
The village has suspended shutting the water off for those who have not paid bills.
“We believe the delivery of safe drinking water an important aspect to public health,” she said.
According to Pavlicek, the village has been increasingly canceling meetings deemed inessential. The village is also deferring administrative adjudication processes, which includes that of contested parking tickets.
The village has also put in processes reflective of CDC guidelines and recognizes that many members of staff have children at home because of school closures.
“We will also make sure those employees are made whole in terms of wages if there are specific absences related to COVID-19,” Pavlicek said.
Law enforcement and fire department, as well as the public works and public health departments, will continue their services during the declared public health emergency.
According to Oak Park Fire Chief Tom Ebsen, the fire department started preemptively ordering extra supplies over a month ago to bolster its preparedness in case of emergency.
“We’re in good shape for what we need right now,” he said.
The fire department is also assigning personnel to work with the health department to assist in keeping the public safe.
“We have a paramedic assigned as an infectious disease coordinator. We have really good internal structure to deal with this and we have taken steps to control what we can in our buildings,” Ebsen said.
The fire department has temporarily canceled CPR classes and tours. They will resume as soon as possible.
“I am very confident that the village has an excellent team that is going to make decisions based on evidence,” said Police Chief LaDon Reynolds. “You have a very cohesive, informed team that’s going to do the what’s right for Oak Park.”
Reynolds also said that the police department will consider every opportunity to make things go smoothly for all Oak Park residents.
Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said the public works department is limiting its interactions with the public as a safety precaution. He also encouraged people to continue drinking tap water.
“The water is safe to drink. There have been no reports of COVID-19 in the water,” Wielebnicki said.
The village is also working with Housing Forward to protect people experiencing homelessness from virus exposure.
“This COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving,” said Public Health Director Mike Charley. “Everyone in the public health department and everyone in the village is paying close attention to what is happening from day to day, hour to hour.”
While Oak Park has had zero reported cases of coronavirus, Charley said the village has been preparing to address cases of COVID-19 and taking action to prevent its spread, including the enforcement of a ban on events of 1,000 or more people.
“We are strongly encouraging that any community events over 250 people or more be canceled or postponed until May 1,” Charley said.
Charley recommends people contact their primary care providers and urgent care centers if they have symptoms prior to going there.
“They like to know you’re coming in so they can coordinate receiving you into the facility safely,” he said.
Charley also instructed people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and encouraged people to work from home as much as possible. Charley also warned seniors against attending events in group settings.
“If you’re sick, please stay home,” Charley said. “Don’t go to work.”