Due to an increased number of positive COVID-19 cases locally and in the state of Illinois, the Oak Park village board voted 6-1 during its July 27 meeting to reinstate a declaration of emergency affecting public health. The declaration extends until Sept. 14. It does not require businesses to shut down or people to shelter in place.

“Following a sustained period of declining new positive cases in Oak Park of COVID-19, the village has seen the seven-day and 14-day rolling average of new positive cases trend in an increasing direction during the month of July 2020,” the resolution reads. 

“There’s no shelter-in-place order associated with it,” Oak Park Health Director Mike Charley told Wednesday Journal. “We’ve started to see an increase in the number of cases again and it’s just a way to ensure there’s recognition and the village has the authority to make decisions quickly.”

The board of trustees previously declared an emergency affecting public health due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 13. Under an emergency declaration, the village manager, with the board’s approval, has the ability to “authorize any purchase or contracts necessary to place the village in a position to combat effectively any disaster, and to protect the public health and safety, protect property, and to provide emergency assistance to victims in the case of any manmade or natural disaster.”

According to Charley, a reinstatement of the declaration comes as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “resurgence” plan to mitigate outbreaks of COVID-19 so the state does not have to revert back to Phase Three of Restore Illinois. Oak Park falls under the Suburban Cook region of the “resurgence” plan. Charley said Oak Park will not deviate from the state.

“If we start to see the cases skyrocket, or hospital use skyrocket, or use of ventilators skyrocket, then they’re going to put measures in place to reduce people’s risk,” Charley told Wednesday Journal.

Since the resolution to make the declaration has no language in it that requires business shutdowns or shelter-in-place directives, the public health emergency has no material effect on the day-to-day lives of people in Oak Park. It is neither the intention of village government nor Charley to regress to a state of lockdown.

“I prefer we don’t. I hope that everyone continues to mask and social-distance,” Charley said in his Wednesday Journal interview. “Nobody should be worrying; people should just be taking precautions.”

Combatting COVID-19, Charley said, is “really a team effort” by citizens, local government and businesses, which need to monitor capacity limits and ensure their staff and customers wear facial coverings. 

Under a public health emergency declaration, the village has the authority to enter into contracts without public advertisement and make emergency purchases, with which Trustee Simone Boutet took issue during the July 27 meeting. 

Boutet believes that, due to the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff should anticipate spending and contractual needs and then present them to the village board for approval. 

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek explained that doing so would create several hours’ worth of work for village staff, delaying the process. Boutet remained unconvinced and cast the sole vote against reinstating the declaration.

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