The Oak Park health departments mobile van is seen on Aug. 9, during a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the gymnasium at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

Oak Park’s public health department has launched an initiative to increase the visibility of the department while it continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative comes in the form of a village-owned van, dubbed the mobile health department, which will travel the village, administering COVID-19 vaccinations to all eligible residents as well as rapid testing. 

On Aug. 12, the mobile health department will be among the attendees of Thursday Night Out in downtown Oak Park. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., volunteers will talk with attendees, educating them on vaccines and hopefully dispelling any vaccine hesitancy.

“If they are interested in getting vaccinated, but just haven’t had the time, [volunteers] will be able to point them back to the mobile unit where they can get vaccinated right there on the spot,” Theresa Chapple-McGruder, Oak Park’s health director, told Wednesday Journal.

The mobile health department made its debut earlier this week in what Chapple-McGruder called a “soft launch.” Oak Park and River Forest High School served as its inaugural stop Aug. 9. It was stationed at the school from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The van itself was parked outside while testing and inoculation took place inside the school due to rainy weather. 

The van is equipped with a refrigerator to ensure proper storage of vaccine doses. The mobile health department offers the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.

The brainchild of Chapple-McGruder, the mobile health department has been in the works since she took over as Oak Park public health director three months ago. She started working to develop the mobile health department in her second week on the job.

Members of the community have also gotten on board. Over 35 volunteers attended a training Aug. 2 to carry out the health education component of the mobile health department. Once hired, the health education manager, a newly created position, will work closely with the mobile health department team, according to Chapple-McGruder. 

“I came in with a vision and seeing it manifested all the way through, I’m really excited,” said Chapple-McGruder.

37 new COVID cases in OP this week

The necessity of increased efforts to test, vaccinate and educate the community regarding COVID-19 isn’t good news for Chapple-McGruder. Positive cases have been on the rise in Oak Park, as the Delta variant continues to spread throughout the country.

In numbers for the most recent week ending Aug. 4, Oak Park posted 37 new cases.

“That was major,” said Chapple-McGruder.

The village of Oak Park reported 20 new cases July 14, compared to two new cases reported the week prior. From then, the cases have continued to rise dramatically with 16 new cases reported July 21 and 25 new cases reported July 28. 

The public health director noted that case surges coincide with public events. Chapple-McGruder expects to see more high case numbers in the coming days due to Lollapalooza, the four-day music festival held in Chicago the last weekend of July. 

“I would like anyone who went to Lollapalooza that weekend to get tested,” she said. 

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