St. Clair County municipalities amp up enforcement of social distancing

By: Angela Simmons, Weekly Editor

The St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, St. Clair County States Attorney, James Gomric, and other officials have partnered with mayors of municipalities in the county and their corresponding police departments to begin stronger enforcement efforts of social distancing mandates.

O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach summarized the conference call, saying “Last night I was on a call with the County Chairman, States Attorney and Sheriff and about 16 mayors. The bulk of the meeting was about groups gathering in Parks and how to get the word out to families. Both hospitals called the County and Shiloh after seeing groups of youth playing basketball at the (Three Springs) Shiloh Park. They expressed concern that groups getting together on basketball, soccer, baseball or in pavilions will further the possible spread and there by lengthen the Social Distancing and current lock downs. Shiloh has since closed down the basketball courts.”

Roach continued “They are now saying the expected peak in cases will not occur until sometime between April 9th and 18th. More social gatherings could prolong this. Some cities have shut down their parks completely; some have done nothing; some have closed off or put signs forbidding use of playgrounds, fields and pavilions. I believe we need to monitor our parks for any large gatherings and close contact. On the other hand I’m hoping that we can find a way to keep our parks open for our citizens to be able to get out and walk and/or run while practicing proper distancing.”

Roach will be monitoring the local parks himself this weekend to help make informed decisions, and he has asked O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook to notify all police and community service officers to step up patrols and to “disperse any groups seen.”

Van Hook said Gomric’s office is also “requesting stronger social distancing enforcement efforts at the county and local levels. We all need to do our part to get beyond this as soon as possible.”

Van Hook and Roach are working with local schools, churches, and community leaders to spread the message.

Roach said “I’m concerned that our parks may be overrun with citizens from communities that have closed down their parks completely. If this does occur, we could see our citizens exposed to a virus carrier from another community. I’m concerned what the length of the shutdown will do to our small businesses but I’m even more concerned about having our citizens further exposed to the virus and O’Fallon becoming the center for future cases in St. Clair County because we didn’t take appropriate action.”

Lebanon Mayor Rich Wilken said “When the conference concluded I called Chief Roth.  We went over the authority given to communities to enforce “ social distancing”. Lebano Police Department will do the enforcement per guidelines set forth by States Attorney Gomric.   I also call Bill Reibold who is President on Board of Directors for Horner Park and outlined to him the authority he would have with regards to enforcement. Horner Park District is actually outside City limits. It will be monitored by Park officials. Horner has closed the two parks with the exception of allowing walkers and bike riding. McAllister Park, which is inside of City limits will be monitored by City officers as well as the City Mini-Park and Park at the Square.”

Residents should stay home unless leaving for essential work or shopping. Walks can be taken, and for now, the parks remain open, but gathering in groups of more than 10 people is prohibited, and people should remain six feet apart to prevent the spread of the virus. St. Clair County is reporting 24 positive cases of COVID-19, and only two of those are believed to have been travel-related. Residents should stay home as much as possible to stop community spread.