A 45-year-old Forest Park man died Oct. 25 from complications due to COVID-19, the first Forest Parker to die from the virus since Aug. 6, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
Thirty-one Forest Park residents have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic last March, but deaths have been a rarity in 2021. Two people died in early January and since then the village has recorded only four additional fatalities.
The prevalence of COVID-19 in Forest Park remains low, with the village averaging just more than one case per day in the week prior to Oct. 29, according to zip code specific data compiled by Northwestern Medicine. The case positivity rate — the measure of how many COVID-19 tests return a positive result — is just 0.62 percent in the same seven-day span, well below the generally agreed upon 5 percent threshold for determining if the virus is widespread in a community. Forest Park has recorded 1,485 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, Forest Park residents are getting vaccinated at a slightly quicker pace than the rest of suburban Cook County. As of Nov. 1, 10,447 Forest Parkers, about 73.7% of the village’s population, had received at least one vaccine dose. A smaller number, around 59.9%, were fully vaccinated, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health. Countywide (excluding Chicago, Oak Park and a handful of others), those numbers are 69.0% and 55.7%, respectively.
Vaccines have been available and strongly recommended for all Americans adults since the spring, and Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins said he has remained unwavering in his belief that eligible residents, which as of Nov. 1 includes everyone age 12 and older, should receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
Hoskins, who is vaccinated, said he and his wife are now setting their sights on vaccinating their 11-year-old son, something that could be possible as early as this week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency authorization for the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children between 5 and 11 years old on Oct. 29 and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) added its recommendation earlier this week.
Last week, before the vaccines were approved for 5- to 11-year-olds, Hoskins said Forest Park would move as quickly as possible to set up sites to distribute the vaccine to its young residents, and said the same efforts and experience used to secure early COVID-19 tests in the spring of 2020 and bring a large-scale vaccine clinic to the former HOBO store in March of this year would be replicated once the child-dose vaccines are given the go-ahead.
The location of any future vaccine clinic has not been determined.
“I’d like to make them available to Forest Park families,” Hoskins said. “Where isn’t as important as that they’re available. We want to make them available to families where they are.”
Likely vaccination sites include Forest Park’s schools, according to the village’s top school official. Forest Park School District 91 Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez said last week that she has reached out to village leaders and the Illinois Department of Public Health to make D91’s buildings available, outside of regular school hours, as a vaccine clinic for kids.
“We have not been opening our schools to our adults and we know that parents want to be there with their children before they get vaccinated,” Alvarez said. “So after school and on the weekends, we’ll have our sites ready to go. At least that’s what we’re proposing. And the mayor is with us, we just need IDPH to support us with those sites.”
D91 Covid protocols are working, says supt.
Supt. Elizabeth Alvarez also talked last week about the district’s response to the pandemic this school year. So far, she says, things have gone largely according to plan.
Most significantly, per Alvarez, no cases of COVID-19 have been linked to transmission inside a school building, with each of the 16 cases among students and staff connected to outside activities.
Part of the reason spread may be limited is because of the high vaccination rate among D91 employees. Alvarez said that only four of the district’s 192 employees, including support staff and teachers, are unvaccinated. She added that any new hires, including student teachers, must be vaccinated.
Alvarez began asking staff to provide their vaccination status in July in an effort to help craft a plan for the 2021- 22 school year, and she said that from the beginning, few employees offered any resistance.
“The teachers were all good with it,” Alvarez said. “I think our teachers wanted it to be safe as well.”
The six preschools, elementary and middle schools that comprise District 91 are not doing daily temperature checks this year, but Alvarez said so-called care rooms have been established at each building to treat and assess students showing any possible COVID-19 symptoms. The schools are also doing weekly testing of every student and each of the four unvaccinated employees.
During the school day, students are spaced out at least three feet in every classroom and at least six feet in the lunchroom to maintain social distancing. Like every other indoor setting in Illinois, all students and staff are required to wear face coverings at school, although students are also afforded outdoor “mask breaks” at times during the day. Alvarez added that the district has had full compliance with the mask mandate from students.
“We’ve had no issues with children not wanting to wear their masks, at all,” she said.
Through the first two-plus months of the school year, the impact on student learning has been also limited, Alvarez says, even for those who must stay home and quarantine for any length of time. Alvarez has insisted that students learning remotely participate in synchronous learning during their reading and math lessons, watching or listening along to the action in the classroom. Other subjects are taught through so-called asynchronous means, which have required some teachers to make additional accommodations and curriculum adjustments.
No District 91 classrooms have been forced to merge and no school buildings have been closed this year as a result of COVID-19. “I want to make sure our children are not missing out on instruction because of this,” Alvarez said.
The latest data from the Cook County health department shows cases among young people in the county’s West District, including Forest Park, have remained relatively low throughout the fall. There were 108 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among residents ages 20 and younger in that region for the week ending Oct. 23.