OPINION: Orland Park COVID-19 cases continue steady rise
Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau asserts in a recent video that face masks are only a substitute for other measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, despite the fact that the village continues to show a troubling and ominous rise in infections which increased by more than 26 percent just in the past three weeks.
By Ray Hanania
Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau this week released a rambling and contradictory 14-minute long video defense of his assertion that face masks are not necessary for residents to avoid catching the deadly coronavirus, arguing the village is succeeding in confronting the virus spread.
The assertions come as COVID-19 infection rates in Orland Park continue to show a steady and ominous increase. Since the beginning of July, COVID-19 infections have risen 26.4 percent in Orland Park, based on Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) data.
IDPH, which maintains detailed COVID-19 infection rates for every community, reported on July 1 that Orland Park had a total of 530 confirmed cases of Coronavirus (in zip codes 60462 and 60467). On July 20, the IDPH reported the total number of infections in Orland Park had increased to 670 total confirmed cases, or an increase of 140 new cases.
The increase in Orland Park is troubling because it contradicts Pekau’s repeated claims about what he believes residents must do to protect themselves, especially his claim that the public does not need to wear face masks — which directly contradicts Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s and the State of Illinois’ directive that face masks must be worn.
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“The Governor’s latest executive order requires anyone over the age of 2 who can medically tolerate a face covering to cover their mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when in a public place and unable to maintain a safe distance (6 feet) from others. Essential businesses and manufacturers are required to provide face-coverings to all employees who are unable to maintain 6 feet of social distancing,” the IDPH declares.
Pekau, a former landscaper with no medical training, asserted in a recent village video that face masks are only an added safety option. He argued “social distancing” as well as “good hygiene” are more than enough to protect the public.
“Currently it seems the entire national discussion is about masks. Regardless of your position masks, here is what I am afraid of. I am afraid of that we are focusing on the wrong thing and we are forgetting why we have been successful to this point,” Pekau said.
“Again, all of the recommendations are to only use masks if you can’t social distance. So, social distancing is the most important thing that you can do. I have heard many people say, well, I can wear masks because the mask will keep me safe and I don’t need to social distance. That’s not true. We need you to social distance. That’s what’s got us here.”
Pekau twists the recommendations of the various state and federal health agencies, arguing that the use of face masks is only a “recommendation” if you can’t social distance.
“The CDC, the WHO, IDPH and everyone else agrees the primary efforts for stopping the spread of COVID-19 are, one, staying home if you are sick. Two, practice social distancing. And, three, using good hygiene practices. Masks are not a substitute for doing those three things,” Pekau asserts.
The IDPH has issued stern warnings to the public, urging: “Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick. Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.”
But Pekau counters, “If you are sick, please, stay home, don’t get someone else sick. Please practice social distancing. Again, all of the recommendations are to only use masks if you can’t social distance. So social distancing is the most important thing that you can do. I have heard many people say I can wear a mask because the mask will keep me safe and I don’t need to social distance. That’s not true. We need you to social distance. That’s what’s got us here.”
Walmart and Kmart have both announced this week that customers and employees “must” wear face masks if they enter those stores, a trend that is gaining momentum throughout the country among responsible businesses.
Ironically, Pekau contradicts himself when he notes that “long term care facilities represent about 54 percent of the deaths in the State of Illinois and about 97 percent of the deaths in Orland Park.”
Pekau calls the long term care facilities as “very dangerous places for their residents” and for relatives who visit, and then urges relatives to wear face masks when they visit those facilities.
“Please, do everything you can to not visit those facilities. I know it is hard because I know your loved ones are there. But that is potentially what will make them sick,” Pekau said.
“If you are going to visit, please make sure you follow all of the precautions that are out there including not just cloth masks but by wearing N95 masks and make sure that they are as well so you can be as safe as possible.”
Despite the rising infection rate, Pekau defended his efforts to quickly re-open the village.
“We continue to move forward. … Everything that we have seen shows that the data is clear. We’ve opened. We know we have done July 4th concerts,” Pekau said.
“We’ve certainly, anyone who has been around the mall sees all the traffic around the mall. All the retail stores. All the restaurants. How much more open they are and yet we are seeing cases declining or flattening. That’s an indicator that we can continue to open. Remember the goal is not to eliminate cases it’s to manage those cases so the hospital system is not overwhelmed. We are accomplishing that.”
Pekau has disparaged anyone who questions his personal conclusions on the spread of the coronavirus, even going so far as to described his critics as mounting “a coordinated politic attack.”
Pekau’s message discouraging the wearing of face masks has had its impact. Visits to restaurants, retail stores and public events clearly shows that many residents are not wearing the face masks as it mandated by Pritzker’s directive.
State of Illinois guidance on confronting the coronavirus is very clear:
While staying home, social distancing, and strict hand hygiene are still preferred methods for preventing further spread of COVID-19, face masks are one more tool that may be used by the general public and essential workers to protect each other from respiratory droplets produced when we cough, sneeze, or talk.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
The most effective measures for preventing further spread of COVID-19 are staying home when you are sick, maintain physical separation between other people while out in public (at least 6 feet), and frequently washing your hands with either soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
Click here to read a related story on the spread of Coronavirus in Orland Park.
Pekau confirmed Tuesday that there have been 35 coronavirus related deaths in Orland Park, with 34 of them in long term care centers.
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