Six feet! Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, and Sybil Madison, Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services, double-check their social distance on a recent YouTube briefing
According to the American Enterprise Institute’s Road map to Reopening, there are four phases that the world’s COVID-19 response must go through: 1) Slow the Spread; 2) State-by-State Reopening; 3) Establish Immune Protection and Lift Physical Distancing; and 4) Rebuild our Readiness for the Next Pandemic.
The United States is still squarely in the “Slow the Spread” phase. Chicago and Illinois’ local and state leaders have been quick to put many measures in place to curtail the spread of the novel coronavirus through our communities. The milestones we need to meet as a city, state, or country to move into Phase II include: continuing to practice physical distancing while solidifying robust public health surveillance (i.e. testing, case tracing, and isolation) and ensuring a sustained higher capacity of our healthcare system (i.e. materials and protective equipment).
In addition to the measures that have already been taken, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) proposes the following actions to help slow the spread and minimize future transmission. Many of these recommendations have the additional advantage of providing lasting benefits beyond our recovery from COVID-19. What follows is a sample of recommendations MPC has made via direct advocacy, policy memos, and more:
- Immediately begin reconnecting water in disconnected homes, as quickly as possible. Governor Pritzker has issued a moratorium on water service shutoffs by private water utilities under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Commerce Commission, but they provide a very small portion of drinking water in Illinois. Many public utilities are voluntarily complying with that moratorium as well. But it is currently unclear what the status of reconnection is. Reconnecting water should be a priority, as water is crucial for the proper hygiene needed to stop the spread of the virus. Reconnecting homes will require water quality testing and plans in place for how to resolve payment issues, but it needs to be done nonetheless. (Who: Public and PrivateWater Utilities)
- Provide water and hygiene stations for those without access to running water. In some instances, it may be faster to bring people to water than it is to restore water service. Providing bottled water can give people the resources they need to stay home. (Who: City of Chicago, other municipalities, State of Illinois). Still, the amount of water required for hygiene and sanitation likely can’t be provided by bottled water alone, so there is a need to provide temporary hygiene and handwashing stations. These resources can be used by people whose water has been shut off, people without stable housing, and essential workers like delivery drivers who may need access to handwashing facilities. Park facilities, public buildings, and event-style portable facilities could all be used.
MPC and other advocates developed recommendations for how to increase transit safety during this phase, and how to rebuild our transit system with a focus on equity and fiscal resilience, as documented in this April 15 letter to the Regional Transportation Authority's Board of Directors. The sample of recommendations below can apply to all the major transit providers in the Chicago metropolitan region (CTA, RTA, PACE, Metra) as well as downstate and private transit operators:
- Transit agencies should modify route frequency to better enable physical distancing, and add vehicles to routes that serve critical facilities such as hospitals and grocery stores.(Who:)
- Transit agencies should share real-time ridership data with each other and transportation planners to help identify and mitigate crowding on routes. (Who: CTA, RTA, PACE, Metra, downstate and private transit operators)
- Transit agencies should develop a policy for how to participate in contact tracing efforts, as transit will likely be a key factor in tracing individual and population movements. (Who: CTA, RTA, PACE, Metra, downstate and private transit operators)
- Governor Pritzker announced on April 23 that the state will issue formal guidance to essential businesses on practicing physical distancing and use of protective equipment, especially for construction, industrial, and manufacturing jobs. In addition, greater scrutiny should be used to define what “essential” construction means. Projects that result in water shutoffs may increase health risks, while interior work on fully enclosed buildings may simply be unnecessary and exposing workers to unwarranted risk. (Who: Illinois Department of Public Health)
- Employ people who have lost their jobs to do contact tracing. Thousands of people are needed to help trace contacts quickly enough to break transmission chains, and the basic job qualification is a high school diploma. Massachusetts is currently working to hire 1,000 contact tracers across the state. (Who: State and local health departments)
- Increase eviction protections and education about those protections. The most recent State moratorium pauses the enforcement of eviction orders as well as limits the initiation of evictions, but it does not stop courts from processing orders, which may still require tenants to travel for court dates and other appointments (depending on county policy). There is rising concern that when the current eviction moratorium ends, a wave of eviction orders will follow, displacing households and increasing exposure to COVID-19. Tenants rights groups have also reported a spike in illegal lockouts and other “silent” evictions still occurring. The current eviction moratorium needs to be more strongly enforced, along with public education, to ensure that tenants know their rights and are not being forced out of their homes. Information on these eviction protections should be made immediately available, in multiple languages, at places where people are still visiting -- grocery stores and food distribution centers, transit, hospitals, etc. (Who: State and counties)
- Increase available interim housing for those who may not be able to self-isolate effectively in their homes. The City of Chicago has already partnered with five hotels for the purpose of interim housing, and units of government throughout Illinois should increase efforts like this across the board. This could include the utilization of currently unused public housing units, easing access to those units, and making it easier for current tenants to secure vouchers and find housing elsewhere. Empty hotels and dormitories exist in many Illinois communities. Government units and private financial institutions own scores of vacant homes. These present an opportunity to provide safe alternative housing options and should be thoroughly explored for individuals being released from incarceration or detention, homeless individuals, and individuals who live in crowded homes or with high-risk family members. (Who: Illinois Housing Development Authority, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Department of Housing, municipal governments, private hotel companies).
It is MPC’s sincere hope that many of these efforts are already underway. We encourage a rapid response and action on these ideas, both in order to further minimize the spread, reduce transmission, and avoid and/or respond quickly to future waves.
MPC also believes that the best solutions are those that will ultimately lead to a better, more equitable future. As such, in addition to recommendations on how to slow the spread, we will also be developing recommendations for immediate financial relief and ultimately building back better. See more on MPC’s COVID-19 page.