Under expanded authority allowed the village manager and the public health department chief by Oak Park’s village board within the current state of emergency, Village Manager Cara Pavlicek is realigning staffing at village hall to increase focus on COVID-19 response.
While Oak Park has had greater latitude to react to the virus because it is one of only five Cook County entities with its own state-certified public health department, the actual department is very thinly staffed. Mike Charley is the veteran head of the department.
To back him up, Pavlicek has, in recent days, deployed a member of both the police and fire departments to serve directly with Charley as adjuncts and liaisons to their departments.
“In the police department, fire department, public works we always have backup built in,” said Pavlicek.
That was not the case in public health, where Charley worked mainly solo. The village has also hired a retired nurse on a temporary basis to help Charley with inspection efforts.
Earlier this week, for instance, the village announced stepped up inspections of local grocery stores to ensure adequate social distancing and the availability of sanitizing products for shoppers and store staff.
“We are transferring or bringing back staff so that the health department has some redundancy,” said Pavlicek. “We are slowly moving people into place.”
The village government also employs an emergency preparedness coordinator, a post created after 9/11, and who is now aligned with the health department. The village’s environmental coordinator is now also working directly with public health.
The village has partially opened an Emergency Operating Center in which Pavlicek is designated as the liaison. This effort responds to requirements from FEMA, the federal agency, that it have a single source of contact within a municipality which might call out its resources.
Pavlicek said the changes are necessary because the need for active response to COVID-19 “is going to go on for a while.”
“This is not going to end on April 6 or on Easter,” she said.
Pavlicek said that although village hall is currently closed to the public, a full range of village staff is at work not only on public health response but also on logistical issues such as how to get money pledged to nonprofits such as Housing Forward out the door more quickly.
The current state of emergency continues through April 6. On that date, the village board will hold a virtual meeting, though the technology platform is still being finalized. On the agenda for that meeting, she said, will be a request that the board ratify retroactively the range of steps already taken by village staff. She said it is likely that a request will be made to extend the timeline on the emergency declaration. But that, she said, will have to be decided by the board.
Parents of toddlers. A tough bunch
Pavlicek said Oak Parkers were “doing OK” in following the state’s stay-at-home order. Asked what role Oak Park police have played in enforcing limits on public gathering and non-essential businesses remaining open, Pavlicek said cops on patrol have been asked to intervene.
She said police have been sent to three local businesses to request that owners close down as they were deemed non-essential under the state order. Pavlicek said those businesses expressed uncertainty about how the order applied to them and were compliant in closing.
Pavlicek said officers have also dispersed groups of teens playing, for instance, a pickup game of soccer in a local park. Again, she said, those efforts were respectfully received.
“Police when patrolling will get out of the car and talk to people about not congregating,” she said.
The toughest crowd to break up, she said, had been parents of little kids on playgrounds.
“The parents have shown a little more indignation,” said Pavlicek, telling officers they are best able to make safe choices for their children.
The Park District of Oak Park has now officially closed all park playgrounds.
Pavlicek lauded the communication and shared decision-making she has seen among local taxing bodies.