Oak Park issued operational guidelines March 25 for grocery stores and pharmacies to ensure the safety of customers and employees. Designated an essential business, stores selling food and medication remain open for customers during the COVID-19 crisis. For this reason, however, people shopping in or working in groceries stores and pharmacies are at greater risk of contracting the virus.

“It’s a two-way street here,” said Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. “Grocery stores [and pharmacies] have to do their job and we, as customers, have to be very conscientious about being six feet apart and by washing our hands.”

The village based Oak Park’s guidelines on Governor J.B. Pritzker’s statewide “stay-at-home” order, which went into effect March 21. The village deferred to Pritzker’s order and rescinded the village’s similar “shelter-in-place” order, which was issued days prior.

“The whole idea about people being homebound is having less exposure to one another and when we have less exposure to one another, we protect ourselves and others,” said Abu-Taleb. “Grocery stores [and pharmacies] are supposed to follow our guidelines on how to operate during this time.”

Specific COVID-19 practices for grocery and drug vendors include maintaining a distance of at least six feet from employees and customers waiting in line. Grocery stores and pharmacies should delineate spacing through signage, tape or by other means.

The order and guidelines also dictate that grocery stores and pharmacies should have hand sanitizer and sanitizing products readily available for customers and employees. In addition, they should also have specific operating times dedicated for the elderly and the vulnerable.

Grocery stores and pharmacies should also post hours of operation, special services and contact information online.

To certify that these businesses operate in accordance with the guidelines and government mandated social distancing requirements, Oak Park public health officials have the ability to conduct compliance inspections.

“If it comes to my attention that such stores are not taking sufficient action to meet these Social Distancing Requirements, I will make some, all or a combination of actions thereof required in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 under my authority,” Oak Park Public Health Director Mike Charley said in the announcement.

According to Oak Park Village Manager Cara Pavlicek, public health officials started to evaluate compliance of local grocery stores and pharmacies and offer guidance to correct violations as of March 26.

The announcement also states stores selling groceries and medication should evaluate whether to implement additional safety precautions, such as limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at any single time.

“What we’re trying to emphasize here is that gatherings of any sort, whether in a grocery store or anywhere else, doesn’t help our cause right now,” the mayor told Wednesday Journal.

 Other suggested grocery store and pharmacy practices include limiting the purchases of high-demand items and reducing hours of operation to help suppliers catch up with demand.

Abu-Taleb said some grocery stores “are doing an excellent job” during this time and that customers have a responsibility to maintain social distancing too.

The mayor also asks that people be mindful when shopping and to disinfect or wash the products they purchase and bring into their homes. He also encourages people to use credit or debit cards instead of cash, which many hands handled before, during and after transactions. 

Abu-Taleb said grocery stores and pharmacies have every right to limit their hours for safety reasons, should they choose to.

 “Just because you’re open, you don’t have to be open 24 hours a day,” he said. “They could minimize their hours. This way, they could be giving their employees time to recover and have more time to clean up and to train.”

These guidelines, along with the state’s order, will expire April 7, unless the village or governor chooses to extend them due to further spread of COVID-19.

A COVID-19 outbreak first occurred in December in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. The virus has since spread globally, with the World Health Organization designating it a pandemic. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 26 people in the state have died due to COVID-19.

“This is really a good example for everyone to understand that what happens in a small town in the very, very, very far east could impact a small town right here in Illinois or anywhere in our country,” said Abu-Taleb. “We are all so connected.”


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