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Coronavirus prompts crackdown on crowds in Cook County forest preserves, and more closures possible if public doesn’t comply

Sunday, March 29, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by John Keilman

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has already shut down parts of the forest preserves in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, said Sunday she will close even more if crowds become unmanageable.

The county has shuttered all public buildings, nature centers, campgrounds, public restrooms and other locations, but Preckwinkle warned that the list could grow if patrons grow too numerous or do not follow proper social distancing.

“If and when we see that a specific location is no longer tenable due to the behavior of visitors, we will add it to the list of sites we have shut down,” she said at a news conference at the Dan Ryan Woods Pavilion on Chicago’s South Side.

She did not cite any particular spots that have become problematic, but a spokesman later said officials are keeping an eye on historically popular places such as the Busse Forest Elk Pasture, Bunker Hill and Caldwell Woods. 

The warning came after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed lakefront trails and parks last week after pleasant weather brought a surge of walkers, bikers and joggers.

“Over the past few days, we’ve seen crowds of a hundred or more congregating together, particularly around our lakefront, and along The 606 and other places,” Lightfoot said while announcing the closures. “This is a blatant violation of (Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s) stay-at-home order. Your conduct — yours — is posing a direct threat to our public health.”

The parts of the forest preserves that remain open include trails, lakes, woods and open fields — “sites that are large enough to allow residents to be outside and to be safe, some with hundreds or even thousands of acres,” said General Superintendent Arnold Randall.

But he said forest preserves police officers, staff and volunteers have been instructed to keep an eye on overcrowding and social distancing violations, and he encouraged the public to call the district’s non-emergency line — 708-771-1000 — if they spot anything they consider to be dangerous.

He said he was ready to close locations quickly if they seem to be a problem.

“To keep our preserves open, they simply cannot be a pathway for spreading the virus,” he said.

Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said runners and bikers should keep their distance from walkers, and that there should be no group walks except for immediate family members. Patrons should also wash their hands before and after visits, she said.

As of Saturday, suburban Cook County has had 1,003 reported COVID-19 cases, second only to Chicago’s 1,610. It has also had 16 deaths linked to the virus, more than anywhere else in the state.

Twitter @JohnKeilman



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