Contact Tracing, Curbside Pickup: Keeping Skokie Residents and Businesses Healthy

The village of Skokie is home to just one of seven state-certified municipal health departments in Illinois, and it has taken a proactive role in addressing the coronavirus. Its mandate that residents wear masks in public places, for example, took effect before a statewide rule.

“A tribute to our community is that we have flattened the curve,” said Dr. Catherine Counard, director of the Skokie Public Health Department. “This is a tight-knit community. Everyone has been working together: businesses, schools, park district, library. We all know each other, we all talk together, and we’ve effectively flattened that curve.”

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Interactive: More from our series, COVID-19 Across Chicago.

In addition to flattening the curve, Skokie has also been able to deploy its volunteer medical reserve corps to perform contact tracing. Fourteen volunteer medical professionals are helping the village move toward the next phase of reopening.

“One of the criteria for moving to phase three in Restore Illinois is that every health department has to be able to interview someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19 within 24 hours and identify who their close contacts are,” Counard said. “Without the help of that medical reserve corps, we would not have been able to respond. We’re keeping up so far, but I’m glad to hear that Governor Pritzker has a plan in place to expand the contact tracing portion as we go forward.”

Skokie has held the line on property taxes for 30 years, so much of the village budget comes from sales taxes. But that revenue source is likely to be way off.

With many retail businesses and restaurants closed or operating at limited capacity, fourth-generation restaurateur Gabriella Littleton of EJ’s Place worries that without relief from state and local governments, the eateries that make up the fabric of places like Skokie won’t survive. 

Especially, she says, “new restaurants that have just opened, restaurants that were maybe struggling before this, this is the sort of financial hit that they may not recover from.”

Littleton says governments can think creatively; for example, by reducing the sales tax proportionate to reduced capacity. If customers have to pay less in tax, they’ll be willing to spend more on meals more often, she says. Despite the upheaval – and the uncertainty about when restaurants can reopen – Little says that fortunately, EJ’s is on solid footing for now.

“When you have multiple generations working at one restaurant, you can weather the storm together and you can work hard together, and if you have to make a sacrifice you make it as a team,” she said.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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