Council Meeting Pic 1.jpg

Photo by Jordan Crook

Members of the Hoopeston City Council practiced some “social distancing” with their seating arrangements Tuesday night in light of the recent concerns over COVID-19.

Near the conclusion of an extended Hoopeston City Council meeting March 17, Mayor Bill Crusinberry addressed the city’s COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, response plan.

Crusinberry had announced the first stage of the plan, which went into effect Tuesday, Sunday.

“Due to the recently announced cases of COVID-19 in Champaign County, it has been decided to implement Stage I of the City of Hoopeston COVID-19 response plan,” Crusinberry said in a press release. “This plan was created by myself, EMA Director Brad Hardcastle, and Chief of Police Jim DeWitt to combat the spread of this virus throughout our city.”

As part of that plan, the following steps went into effect Tuesday:

- Crusinberry directed city department heads and employees to begin planning for contingency of operations and staffing needs throughout the crisis.

- Crusinberry encouraged the community to stay home if they are feeling ill and avoid public spaces or gatherings.

- Citizens should be ready to implement personal preparedness to limit the spread of the virus (proper handwashing, hygiene, sanitation, etc.).

- City Hall will be open to the public only by appointment. Please call the city offices at 217-283-5833 to arrange an appointment if necessary.

- Alternate payment methods are pay by phone, pay online, or drop it in the drop box in front of City Hall.

- The police department window will still be open for walk-in reports.

During last week’s council meeting, Crusinberry announced the steps for the second and third stages of the response plan.

Some of the actions listed above, including limiting public access to city hall and keeping the police department window available to the public, are parts of the second stage of the response plan, which is listed below:

“We’ve went through stage I and done a few things on stage II,” he said.

Step II of the plan includes the following steps:

- Close buildings to the public.

- Employees still must report to work.

- Clean and sanitize all city buildings.

- Police department window will remain open.

- Direct the chief of police and the first chief to plan a reduction of response to non-emergency report calls to avoid unnecessary face-to-face contact with possible exposure to the virus.

- Direct water department staff to look at shut-off procedures and late fees during the closing of City Hall.

- Encourage the public to cancel any large public gatherings.

- Direct the chief of police and EMA director to develop plans to secure the areas around health care facilities and food stores.

- Direct the city attorney to draft an emergency declaration resolution in the event of implementation of stage III of this plan.

- Hold regular briefings between the police chief, fire chief, EMA director and the mayor to determine the extent of the spread of the virus, if other actions need to be taken, or if stage III needs to be implemented.

Crusinberry said the plan was developed over the weekend during a meeting between himself, Fire Chief Joel Bird, Police Chief Jim DeWitt, Hoopeston Emergency Management Director Brad Hardcastle and other members of the fire department and HEMA where they considered how to develop and implement the plan if necessary.

He said they considered what would be necessary for them to implement stage III of the plan.

Crusinberry said they initially thought that stage III should be implemented if a case of COVID-19 was found in Vermilion County, but dismissed the idea since Hoopeston is so close to Iroquois County as well as Ford County and the Indiana border.

“We thought that was kind of crazy because you might have one a mile north in Iroquois County or in Indiana,” he said. “So we declared a 40-mile radius.”

Crusinberry said that stage III would be implemented when a case of COVID-19 is declared within a 40-mile radius of Hoopeston. As of Friday morning, the Vermilion County Health Department reported no positive cases have been detected in Vermilion County. More than 30 tests have been sent in to be checked and none of the samples that have been checked have come back positive.

“Which would take you south of Georgetown, Rantoul, Gibson City, Paxton, Watseka, just short of Lafayette, if we have a case,” he said.

Stage III involves the following steps:

- Call an emergency city council meeting to declare an emergency within the City of Hoopeston.

- Implement police reduction of response plan.

- Implement fire reduction of response plan.

- Implement contingency of operations plans for city departments.

- Consider keeping non-essential city employees at home.

- Ban all public gatherings larger than 10 people.

- Implement a curfew during the duration of the emergency declaration, if warranted.

- Implement ordinance 2.50.100 regarding emergency purchases by the EMA director.

- Hold regular briefings between the police chief, fire chief, EMA director and the mayor to determine if the emergency declaration needs to continue or if other actions need to be taken.

- Approve the transfer and direction of personnel or functions of city departments for the purpose of performing or facilitating emergency services.

- Declare, issue, enforce, modify and terminate orders for quarantine and isolation of persons or animals posing a threat to the public.

A few points about the plan drew questions from the council.

Council members asked what a reduction of response plan involved.

Bird told the council a reduction of response means that, on non-essential fire or vehicle calls, he would take the least amount of personnel along with him when responding to the call.

“I would take the least amount I could, I wouldn’t take the whole fire department with me,” he said. “That way we would all not be infected; [for example] it would only be one or two of us going into a home to check a CO level.”

Under this plan, Bird said there would be a limited number of personnel going into a situation where they might encounter someone who is infected and, therefore, limit the potential for the virus to spread amongst the entire department.

There was a question regarding what a contingency of operation plan involved.

Hardcastle said that plan just deals with what happens if city personnel become infected and who takes over their responsibilities while they are recovering.

“The parks department, for instance, is two guys, what happens if they both get infected? Who takes care of their responsibilities?” he said.

Crusinberry said that he’s already, under stage II of the plan, asked city personnel to practice “social distancing” when working.

“Already, under stage II, I’ve told them, when at all possible, to separate themselves like not having two guys in the same pick-up if they don’t have to be,” he said. “I know they have to work side-by-side sometimes, but try to distance by six feet if you can.”

Crusinberry said part of stage III involves the council passing an resolution declaring a state of emergency.

Crusinberry asked Hardcastle to explain why declaring a state of emergency is necessary for the plan.

“It allows the city to get reimbursement funds from the state or the federal government for anything that we buy that’s disaster-related,” he said. “There’s been a state declaration, there’s been a federal declaration, so this just adds onto that. The second thing is it gives the mayor emergency powers to enact some of the things in stage III.”

Hardcastle said the biggest thing in stage III is the emergency management ordinance that enables HEMA to bypass the usual approval process and purchase it immediately.

The emergency declaration also enables the mayor to declare a curfew, Hardcastle said, if they determine that’s needed.

Hardcastle said stage III doesn’t have to implemented in its entirety.

He said the city can enact the steps from stage III it deems necessary depending on the situation at hand.

“A lot of the stuff in stage III is just a guideline,” he said. “We don’t have to do those things, but it’s there in case we need it.”

“Those things exist, and we can do them, but we don’t have to,” Crusinberry said. “We can do it item by item.”

Hardcastle also addressed the final item dealing with quarantine.

He said the emergency declaration enables them to issue a quarantine within the city, giving the example that if the virus was found in a specific part of the city, they could quarantine that area under this plan.

Crusinberry said the plan was just put together this weekend, so the ordinance declaring a state of emergency couldn’t be put on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

He asked the council if it wanted to hold another meeting later this week to approve the ordinance.

Crusinberry noted that part of Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order allows for the suspension of the Illinois Open Meetings Act’s requirement for in-person participation at council meetings, which opens up more options for council members to hold a meeting under these conditions.

Crusinberry told the council members they could hold a meeting via video, audio or telephonic access.

“The way I read that, we could schedule a telephone conference to adopt this resolution,” he said.

Alderwoman Lourdine Florek asked how they would allow public access to a meeting under those conditions.

Alderman Jeff Wise interjected that the city wouldn’t be required to allow public access to the meeting under the executive, however, Crusinberry, reading aloud from a section of the order, noted that they would have to allow for telephonic public access to the meeting.

Crusinberry said the council also just hold a public meeting on Friday to pass the ordinance before next week.

“We could be past the point where we need stage III next week if something goes crazy in Vermilion County,” he said.

Alderman Alex Houmes asked who would be in charge of the city under the response plan.

“If this passes, whose in charge?”

Under the National Incident Management System guidelines, Crusinberry said, the mayor would be in charge.

“If you go by your NIMS, it’s the mayor,” he said.

Hardcastle clarified that the mayor would be in charge and would be backed up by the EMA director.

“It’s your mayor and then your emergency manager,” he said. “That’s your hierarchy.”

Alderman Chad Yaden asked who would decide when stage III goes into effect.

Hardcastle said stage III would be automatically triggered when a confirmed case of COVID-19 is found within a 40-mile radius of Hoopeston.

Crusinberry clarified that the resolution for the emergency declaration is just another element of stage III.

“The resolution is just another piece of the puzzle in stage III,” he said. “It’s not part of implementing stage III.”

Crusinberry steered the conversation back to when the council would like to meet to vote on the resolution.

However, a brief conversation regarding under what conditions the council could conduct an emergency meeting that wouldn’t require the usual public notice period.

Houmes asked what would constitute an emergency in the council’s eyes, seeking clarification if there is a clearly defined set of parameters for an emergency or if the council would just decide that on their own.

Florek said she would have a stricter definition of an emergency than a lot of people, stating that she is a believer in open meetings and the first amendment.

Houmes asked if Florek would consider a case of COVID-19 being found within 40-miles of the city to be an emergency.

“Not really,” Florek said, after a few moments of consideration.

Florek stated that she feels the entire situation has been hyped too much and that “everybody just needs to calm down.”

Wise brought the conversation back into focus.

“We’re getting way off topic on this one,” he said.

Hardcastle pointed out that the council is conducting a meeting on March 31 to discuss the city’s budget and recommended that the council could simply schedule a special meeting for that night and approve the resolution then.

“You already have a meeting on the books, you might as well use it,” he said.

Yaden recommended the council wait and if they have an emergency then they can conduct an emergency meeting. The council agreed and moved on from the matter.

Crusinberry added later on that the city’s bulk garbage pick-up event for March was cancelled. He said they would see how the situation develops and make a decision about restarting it in April at a later date.

Crusinberry also spoke about the governor’s order preventing restaurants and bars from serving customers within their premise but allowing for drive-thru, carry out and curbside pick-up.

He said he had received several questions about how that order is being enforced.

Crusinberry said enforcement duties are supposed to fall to the state police with assistance from local police departments.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Crusinberry said, the Hoopeston Police Department had received no communication from the state police regarding any kind of enforcement efforts related to the governor’s order.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Hoopeston City Council is set for 7 p.m. April 7 at City Hall.