As COVID-19 continues to transform daily life in the village, the Oak Park village board voted to extend the declaration of emergency at a virtual April 6 board meeting. The original emergency declaration was set to expire April 6; with the extension, the declaration now lasts until May 5.

Oak Park Public Health Director Mike Charley, as well as the fire chief and police chief, via videoconference, gave updates on their respective departments and the precautionary protocols each has established to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of public servants and citizens.

According to Charley, Oak Park’s public health department has had some challenges reporting COVID-19 test results due to patients not providing their home addresses.

“Two of the 68 [COVID-19 cases in Oak Park] have PO boxes, others have no addresses listed,” Charley said.

According to Charley, the two public health nurses in the department are completing case “surveillance,” including reaching out to the sick person, as well as their family members, friends, business associates and people with whom they may have come into contact.

“As of late, the number of close contacts with each one of the positive cases has been a lot lower than it was in the beginning. The governor’s shelter in place order made a huge positive impact,” Charley said.

Charley said COVID-19 has breached senior community residences; seniors, along with the immunocompromised, are at highest risk for contracting the virus.

“Four senior living facilities have confirmed positive COVID-19 cases: one long-term care facility, one assisted living facility and two independent facilities,” Charley said.

According to Charley, the health department worked with the facilities before and after the confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses.

“The health department’s primary role is to prevent and stop the spread of disease at these facilities,” he said. “We were very proactive by visiting all these facilities prior to having any positive cases, but certainly now that since we’ve identified the cases, we’re providing for case follow up, guidance and consultation to the facility administrators, property managers and health care workers.”

Due to the nature of the pandemic, Charley said the Oak Park health department closely monitors the evolving guidelines issued by the state of Illinois and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pertaining to COVID-19.

“We’ve regularly updated the [Oak Park] documents, bulletins, and public health orders based on this information,” Charley said. “We also, in turn, use what we know locally for those documents and public orders.”

The public health department issued a supplemental order concerning grocery stores. The supplemental order includes an occupancy maximum, based on the sales floor square footage and social distancing requirements, to limit the number of customers shopping at one time.  

“That went into effect April 4,” said Charley. “We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from grocery stores.”

Residents can view all COVID-19 documents, announcements and orders on the village website.

Oak Park Fire Department has also updated its operations, including their responses to calls, in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On a normal call, if an ambulance and an engine goes for support, in the past we might have had two or three people enter the building,” said Fire Chief Tom Ebsen. “Now, we just have one person enter, do a quick triage, and try to keep the number of personnel going into the building to a minimum.”

The fire department sometimes asks dispatch to have the caller, if capable, meet the firefighters at the door to do triage inside the ambulance. This allows firefighters to avoid entering a building.

The fire department has also modified its command team, adding a temporary deputy chief of infection control and reassigning tasks for the deputy chief of community services to support the Oak Park public health department.

“We’ve platooned our administrative staff so we’re not all here on the same day. We’ve divided ourselves into thirds, so we work every day but we only come into the office once every three days,” Ebsen said.

Fire department personnel wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and strictly adhere to guidelines from the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The stations and equipment undergo regular sanitization. The department also regularly takes the temperatures of employees.

“We have yet to have any of our personnel test positive for COVID,” Ebsen said.

The Oak Park Police Department has implemented a similar staggered schedule for its officers and personnel.

“We put some protocols in place to keep the citizens, officers and their families safe,” said Police Chief LaDon Reynolds. “We’re responding to all emergency calls for service, but we have implemented the recommendations from the CDC and the IDPH regarding social distancing and the use of PPE.”

Reynolds said the police department is working with the health department and other taxing bodies to keep the community and public recreation areas safe.

“We’ve seen a reduction in calls for service, but our essential policing services are maintaining the status quo,” Reynolds told the board.

(For more information regarding Oak Park police and COVID-19, please see page 3.)

The village board voted to waive and suspend fees for parking permits, decreasing quarterly fees by half, to provide financial relief for residents experiencing hardships as a result of the virus.

The board also voted to waive and suspend the 10 percent late payment penalty on water charges. The village has committed to not turn off water for those who cannot pay.

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