Photo by Joe Boyle
Two geese are all that can be seen in the parking lot of Michaels arts and crafts store on Friday afternoon at the Chicago Ridge Mall. Along with Michaels, Kohl's and Bed Bath & Beyond were also closed at the mall due to the novel coronavirus.
By Joe Boyle
Southwest suburban mayors are dealing with the new normal as local governments are learning to function despite the lingering presence of COVID-19.
"It's been really surreal," said Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury. "It's been unbelievable. If you would have told me we would have been having this conversation three weeks ago, I wouldn't have believed you. But it's getting real quickly."
Bury, and Mayor Chuck Tokar of Chicago Ridge, are conducting business from their homes as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. For Bury, that means getting up at 5 a.m. to check emails and keeping in contact with local officials.
"We are hunkered down," Bury said in reference to local residents. "We had a little problem where some people were gathering at a local park but police dispersed them and it was taken care of. But most people know what they have to do. They are checking on senior citizens to see how they are doing. I'm concerned for those who are not self-reliant. I want people to reach out. Even just calling would help. We want to stay ahead of this."
Tokar is also conducting business from his home and said that he is pleased with local officials who are working to keep residents informed of the latest developments. He applauded the efforts of one employee who has kept the website updated.
"It has been pretty crazy," Tokar said. "We are working on coming up with a system to see if we can hold a village board meeting later through the web or broad-banding."
Both Bury and Tokar have said that as of Monday no first responders in either village have been reported having COVID-19.
"They are having their temperatures taken before they work and when they finish for the day," Tokar pointed out.
Bury mentioned that there are a few first responders who are not working but it that is primarily for personal reasons.
She said one of the biggest challenges is to keep in communication with residents regarding any updates. Residents can get the most current information and receive assistance by signing up at smart911.com. By registering, the mayor said, residents will be contacted for updates and will be provided with emergency care and alerts.
The Oak Lawn mayor said that representatives at local churches have kept in contact with seniors and residents during this crisis. Many of them have provided care packages for residents in need. BEDS Plus, which is affiliated with several local churches in Oak Lawn, has consolidated its services due to the outbreak.
She also applauded the efforts of health care employees at Advocate Christ Medical Center for their dedication during these difficult times. She also thanked non-profit organizations for helping out during the crisis and devoting their time and efforts. But she is worried for organizations like Park Lawn, who provide services for the mentally and physically challenged.
"A lot of these fundraisers and activities have been canceled that provide resources for Park Lawn and other charitable organizations. Let's not forget them and give when we can," Bury said. "And let's support our local businesses. I really feel for them. Some of them are holding on by a thread. This is a challenging time for them."
Bury noted that residents and organizations can donate food for local pantries, including peanut butter, jelly, jams and pastas. Personal protection equipment, or PPE, which can range from masks and gloves, can be donated at the Oak Lawn Village Hall.
Tokar is also concerned about local businesses. The Chicago Ridge mayor has made a special effort to purchase food from some of the local businesses who are offering curbside service or deliveries.
"I'm worried about them and I'm trying to help them," he said. "We have a lot of local businesses, like Jack and Pat's. The chains will be all right. They will make it through this."
But Tokar also has the Chicago Ridge Mall. Restaurant chains at the mall are offering pick-up and delivery service. Kohl's will be closed a minimum of two more weeks. Michael's arts and crafts store was open as late as March 15 but was closed on Friday. Aldi's food store is still open at the mall.
"They (Chicago Ridge Mall) tried to stay open with limited hours but we suggested that perhaps it wasn't a good idea," Tokar said. "So, they are closed for now."
Both Bury and Tokar said that despite the uncertainty, residents have been doing what has been asked of them.
"We are doing the best that we can," Tokar said. "We are taking it day by day."