Lincoln Aldermen consider how to reopen from coronavirus
City parks playgrounds now open

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[May 22, 2020] 

Monday evening, May 18th, Lincoln aldermen met for their regular voting meeting. Still observing guidelines set forth by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, the group observed social distancing with aldermen and essential members scattered throughout the council chambers. About half of the aldermen wore face masks while others opted not to.

Toward the end of the evening, Aldermen Ron Keller introduced the topic of coronavirus and how the city and county is working to move forward into the stage two and beyond phases as prescribed by the state.

Keller began by saying that the aldermen have heard a lot from the community, particularly business owners who are concerned. He said that the aldermen feel the pain of the community and have begun discussing what can be done.

Keller said, “To the public, we are considering our options. For myself I say that we can’t sit back and let this continue.”

Keller said that Mayor Seth Goodman had asked that Keller and Tracy Welch work with other entities in the community to examine the options.

Keller, Welch, City Attorney John Hoblit, Logan County Board Chairman Emily Davenport, Sheriff Mark Landers and Logan County Department of Public Health Administrator Don Cavi had met earlier in the day to discuss the current status of cases in Logan County, the “Phased” approach of the governor and what the county and city can do to help move our community back to some kind of normalcy.

Keller said that the next step for he and Welch is to talk with the business owners/managers in Lincoln and get their input on what is needed in order to move forward safely and responsibly. However, Keller also noted as did Welch later in the evening, that the city doesn’t have the authority to say that the businesses could re-open.

Keller went on to say that in the phased response to Covid-19 issued by the governor, the state had been divided into regions. Logan County is in region three with several other counties. Keller said that Davenport will be reaching out to all those counties in region three to find out where they are and what they would like to do to move their communities back to normal.

Keller said he felt that was a very good plan. He noted that it would be important for all the counties to work together and have a unified plan. He went on to say that a unified plan needed to be a plan for the city and county together and also a plan that reflects a partnership with the other counties in region three.

Keller went on to say that the Logan County Department of Public Health along with the Logan County Emergency Management Agency, and other entities had done a great job of preparing and implementing a Covid-19 response for Logan County. He added, that the plan in place has impressed other counties so much that they had contacted Logan County for advice on how to design their own responses.

Moving on, Keller said that the Logan County infection rate is very low and has been all along. Because of this, he felt that it made sense to move the community forward, perhaps a bit ahead of the governor. To that end, he suggested that perhaps the city could re-open the playgrounds in city parks. The city parks are under local authority so it is a move the city could make. Cavi had told Keller that coronavirus lives on surfaces about two hours after contact, so yes, there would be some risk.

Keller said he thought it was worth it though. He noted that it would be good for the community to give them something and the parks would be something.

Keller concluded that he felt that re-opening our community could and should occur, but it needed to happen with a carefully planned, safe approach.

Steve Parrott said that he too had heard from businesses and citizens and also the churches. He said he didn’t want to city to omit the churches in their future planning. He added that in many of the churches in town there was ample space to practice social distancing in the congregations.

Keller agreed that the churches should not be overlooked. He added that according to the current phase structure, congregations of over 100 would not be allowed to open until phase five.

Parrott also noted that he felt like Cavi and LCDPH would move with the state as it would be important to their future that they did so. Keller concurred. He added that regardless of what is done, all the actions taken to re-open the city and county had to be data and health driven, holding public safety as the highest priority.

Sam Downs asked when the city and county would start making changes. Keller said that the city parks could be opened right away if the city desires.

Downs said that he was okay with re-opening but as a person in the health care profession he is very concerned that the local authorities move forward in small increments. He said, yes, the parks are okay, but stop there until the state moves into another level.

Downs asked where the state is in the phased plan right now. Welch said that the state is ready to move into phase two and the plan is for June first. However, he has concerns that the governor will push back that move.

NOTE: On May 6th, Pritzker outlined the phases:

Phase 1 – Rapid Spread: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital is high or rapidly increasing. Strict stay at home and social distancing guidelines are put in place and only essential businesses remain open. Every region has experienced this phase once already and could return to it if mitigation efforts are unsuccessful.

Phase 2 – Flattening: The rate of infection among those tested and the number of patients admitted to the hospital beds and ICU beds increases at an ever slower rate, moving toward a flat and even a downward trajectory. Non-essential retail stores reopen for curb-side pickup and delivery.

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Illinoisans are directed to wear a face covering when outside the home, and can begin enjoying additional outdoor activities like golf, boating and fishing while practicing social distancing. To varying degrees, every region is experiencing flattening as of early May.

In that May 6th release, Pritzker implied that much of the state was already in phase two and had completed Phase one, though Phase one could return.

On May 21st, LDN published an additional press release from Pritzker that noted that the state was doing well and he would be making modifications to the phase three, allowing more businesses to open than originally planned.

In the council chambers Monday night, Goodman also supported opening the parks. He said that the city does not have the authority to tell businesses they may open. He noted that the city has to follow government orders regardless. But at the same time, he felt that the city playgrounds were within city authority. He said that no one had officially told the city they had to close the playgrounds. He added that the citizens of the community do need to see some movement toward normalcy. He felt that giving town kids a place to play was a good move and noted that area children were not going to have a pool this summer, and there were no festivals or carnivals in the works. He said the kids need something.

City Street Superintendent Walt Landers was available via online conferencing. He was asked which parks the city could open. Landers named parks with playgrounds including - Postville Park, Ray White Park, Melrose, Allison, and the ALMH Outdoor Fitness Court.

NOTE: City parks were never closed to the public, only the playgrounds. Therefore the list pertained only to those parks with play areas or exercise areas.

Welch said that there was no vote on the agenda for opening the parks so the mayor would need to make an executive decision. Keller noted that when the playgrounds were closed there was no vote, only a mayor decision. Therefore, action could be taken with no vote needed.

Goodman said he would make that order and ask Landers and his crews to start taking down the barriers on Tuesday morning. He added that this ruling did not apply to county parks or parks under the jurisdiction of the Lincoln Park District. It also did not apply to playgrounds in school yards. Goodman said he would reach out to the school superintendents to let them know what the city was going to be doing.

Goodman said he would add to the public: Do not take down any barriers. Wait for the city to do so and then utilize only the playgrounds where the barriers have been removed.

Editors note: Kickapoo Creek Park is not under the city or the other entities mentioned during this meeting. It is a charitable privately held park operating under the Logan County Parks and Trails Foundation.

As the group began winding down on this topic, Welch noted that the meeting on Monday morning with the health department and county had been a very good meeting with a lot of input.

Welch's message to the community now would be to assure them that the city is constantly talking about how to lead the community through this unique situation. He said some had thought the city was doing nothing at all, and he wanted to correct that and assure them that the city is actively working on solutions.

He went on to say that because of the governor’s rulings, there is a balancing act and there are consequences to not following the governor.

He said that no one wanted to see businesses open early only to be shut down by the state. There were some businesses with licensing that would be putting their license at risk if they don’t follow state orders.

There are also threats for the city and the LCDPH, specifically the threat of the loss of funding. He added that if the city loses funding the roads don’t get fixed, people don’t get paid, there would be layoffs and the situation will go from bad to worse, so the city has to be very careful of what it does and what it supports others doing.

Goodman asked Hoblit if he had any concerns.

Hoblit said that he had seen that the city and county have very low numbers when it comes to cases of coronavirus. At the same time, as the city attorney, it is his job to protect the city from liability, and there was some liability involved in reopening the playgrounds. He said that the city did not need his permission to move forward, but he would caution them on the opportunity to be held liable if someone becomes sick and can trace it back to a playground.

On a similar topic, Hoblit noted that the court system is moving forward with re-opening starting in June. They will be observing health guidelines including social distancing.

Hoblit said that on the same note, if the city is looking to begin returning to some sense of normalcy, perhaps it should consider reinstating the regular meeting schedule, including Committee of the Whole meetings. He said the council was already meeting and observing social distancing in the chamber. Returning to a COW schedule would be another step in the right direction.

Aldermen agreed it was time to return to a regular schedule. Hoblit was authorized to prepare the necessary resolution to be voted upon at the Monday, June 1st voting session. Committee of the whole meetings should then return on the second and fourth Tuesday’s starting with the meeting on Tuesday, June 9th.

[Nila Smith]

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Bars and Restaurants Can Open for Outdoor Seating, All State Parks to Open
Personal care services and all retail stores may open with safety precautions in place


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