Austin’s top cop: Stay inside

April 8, 2020
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Austin’s top cop says too many people are still congregating outside and not remaining inside as required under the governor’s nearly 3-week-old, stay-at-home order.

“People in our community need to take this a lot more seriously,” 15th District Police Commander Yolanda Talley told faith and community leaders at a virtual meeting held this week.

The police are having to do “a lot more dispersals every day,” she said, especially along two of Austin’s busiest business corridors, Lake and Madison streets.

Across the city, the Chicago Police Department has issued more than 1,500 COVID-19 dispersals, with 200 of those in Austin’s 15th District, Talley said. In all, the department issued 1,584 group dispersals, 11 citations and three arrests between March 21, when the stay-at-home order took effect, and April 5, according to the Chicago Tribune.

It helps that in recent days many liquor stores on the West Side have agreed to close early – at 6 p.m. – as these are sites where people like to congregate.

Pastor Steve Epting of Hope Community Church said he was happy to see on Monday night – with liquor stores closing early – very few people out.

“It was a ghost town last night. That’s what we want. We want people in,” Epting said at the meeting on Tuesday, adding he’s heard the city will be closing all liquor stores at 9 p.m. starting later this week.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city would be imposing a 9 p.m. curfew for all liquor sales in Chicago to prevent people from congregating outside stores – and further spreading the coronavirus. The curfew starts April 9.

“Many of us have been preaching people over profit, and that’s a good example right there,” Epting said.

Who have the police been needing to send home?

“Everybody across the board, young, adults, especially adult males. Not a lot of elderly,” Commander Talley said. “But our young adults are out a lot.”

Talley said officers have been ticketing non-essential businesses that were trying to remain open by having customers come in a back door.

Initially, people mistakenly thought they could be outside until 5 p.m. before retreating inside. Police have had to do a lot of educating of residents to make them understand the state order is 24-7, Talley said.

Police don’t want to have to enforce the stay-at-home order, but “if we have to make arrests, we will; if we have to write tickets to our citizens, we will. … Some of these businesses aren’t complying like they should.”

With 95 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the police department as of April 7 – and six within the 15th District – Talley said it’s time everyone started to take the coronavirus seriously.

To fight the growing number of COVID-19 cases among Chicago residents, Deputy Mayor Sybil Madison said the city is targeting individuals who are more than 50 years old and have an underlying health condition such as heart or lung disease, diabetes or hypertension.

“What we’re going to need in places like Austin – which has a high rate of cases and high rate of mortality – we’re going to need our community leaders, our activists, our institutions, our city departments to really mobilize around this effort,” Madison said during Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

“We need to be checking on people on a daily basis,” she said. The goal is to get high-risk individuals into health care immediately, especially if they’re exhibiting any signs of the coronavirus, including fever, fatigue, body ache or coughing.

The city is tracking the number of COVID-19 cases by zip code.

Madison also warned against people congregating, including birthday and house parties, gender reveal events and funerals.

“Any kind of social gathering that is bringing people together … is just a really dangerous situation.”

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