It was anything but business as usual in 2020 for the Village of Oak Park’s 350 full-time municipal employees.
As the worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus reached Oak Park in mid- March of 2020, municipal employees from every department and every skillset pivoted to focus their wide range of formal education, experience and expertise to providing services unlike those typically required of local government workers.
Public works crews became experts in helping retailers designate safe social distances for their clientele and creating the materials they would need to help their customers comply.
Firefighter-paramedics answered every call for emergency medical services with the real possibility of encountering a highly-contagious virus on every ambulance run.
And public safety responsibilities expanded to include educating groups of maskless citizens in the parks and neighborhoods, and explaining tough state and local emergency regulations.
Police officers often were the face of government as they helped small business owners understand the changing rules and distributed more than 1,300 handmade masks to anyone in need.
The Health Department — one of only a handful of state-certified municipal public health departments in Illinois — took on the formidable role of tracking and reporting positive cases, and disseminating mountains of information on how to avoid getting infected, recognizing the symptoms and what actions to take if infection was suspected.
Health Department staff also distributed thousands of personal protection equipment (PPE) items, including to local businesses, social service agencies and healthcare providers.
By the end of 2020, the local health department would begin to take on the daunting task of distributing vaccines as well.
Those Village employees whose duties allowed worked from home, while others adopted split shifts and discrete work groups so that they could be quarantined should a positive case be identified among their ranks.
But the critical, yet often unseen, municipal services upon which citizens rely didn’t stop.
Oak Park’s more than 100 miles of Village-owned streets, 500 alleys, nearly 20,000 parkway trees, 7,000 lighting fixtures, 104 miles of water mains, 110 miles of sewer mains, eight miles of bicycle lanes and some 4,000 public parking spaces still required attention.
The streets had to be plowed, water leaks fixed and building permits issued. Meanwhile, the revenues that support services fell as many typical fees and fines were temporarily reduced or waived to lessen the impact on Oak Park residents whose jobs had also been affected by the pandemic.
So how did the Village do in 2020 with maintaining critical municipal services in the midst of a worldwide pandemic? Here’s snapshot of some of their activities from the year just ended…