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COVID-19 is dominant story of 2020

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Photo by Joe Boyle
The graduating class of Richards High School in Oak Lawn, with help from the administration, held a “drive-by” parade through the school parking lot to say a final goodbye to classmates, parents and teachers last May. The event was held because the school year abruptly ended due to the spread of COVID-19.
Joe Boyle
The road through 2020 was anything but smooth with the overall news directly tied to the pandemic
The most repeated words of the last 12 months were the novel coronavirus, the coronavirus, COVID-19, social distancing, face masks, curbside pickup, remote learning, hybrid learning, and drive-by celebrations.
However, there were other news stories in 2020, although they eventually took a backseat to the global pandemic. Actually, the biggest story at the beginning of last January was the Cannabis Regulation Tax Act that was signed into law during the summer of 2019 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Adults ages 21 and over could now smoke or ingest recreational marijuana as of Jan. 1, 2020.
During the previous year, the issue was debated at local board meetings. Worth was unique in that they already had a dispensary, Windy City Cannabis, 11425 S. Harlem Ave., and staff there had been distributing medical marijuana for the previous two years.
Medical marijuana dispensaries had the first option to sell recreational cannabis.
The Worth Village Board passed the ordinance during a previous meeting. The board approved a special use permit to establish and sell recreational cannabis from Windy City Cannabis.
Chicago Ridge, Hickory Hills and Palos Hills approved ordinances to implement a 3 percent tax if marijuana is sold from a dispensary in the municipalities. Worth, along with the other local municipalities that approved the ordinance, would be provided with at least 1.5 percent of the revenue from the tax. The rest would go to the state.
Marijuana was in the news again when the Chicago Ridge Village Board on Nov. 17 approved a business license for Ascend Wellness Holdings, doing business as Ascend, to open a dispensary in the former Pier 1 Imports at 9820 S. Ridgeland Ave., beside Chicago Ridge Mall. Marijuana for medical and recreational purposes will be sold there.
Another big story was about former Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen, who is accused of striking a pedestrian with his vehicle and leaving the scene. However, hearings have been delayed because the court cases are backed up due to the pandemic.
Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park officially merged with OSF HealthCare on Feb. 1.
A story in the March 26 issue focused on an individual who was taken to Little Company of Mary Medical Center for reportedly having symptoms related to COVID-19 while at an Evergreen Park facility has tested negative for the virus.
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said the person who became ill first informed staff at the Evergreen Park Activity Center, which is located near the Community Center. The individual was then admitted to Little Company earlier that month and was tested for the novel coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett asked for calm as the virus began to spread.
“We are in unprecedented times,” Bennett said during a Palos Hills City Council meeting. “We want the best for our residents. Try to stay home. They (state officials) are just asking us to refrain from contact with each other for a while.”
Most Chicago Ridge Mall businesses closed temporarily after Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for restrictions in March because of the virus. Other mall parking lots were nearly empty through May.
While many stores closed through May, stories focused on some businesses offering food for health care workers and first responders to show their gratitude for their efforts. The Evergreen Park Food Pantry and other local institutions offered large amounts of food for those suddenly in need.
Pritzker, based on rising COVID cases, called for all schools to close for the rest of the school year. Richards High School students, with the help of staff, faculty and parents, held a drive-by graduation parade in the school parking lot in May. Oak Lawn Community High School also held a similar event. Drive-by celebrations marking birthdays, graduations and anniversaries became a common sight in the summer of 2020.
Throughout the year, local school districts offered either remote learning or hybrid sessions, a combination of in-person on certain days and remote learning on other days. Catholic schools have consistently been holding in-person learning with tight restrictions of wearing face masks and keeping social distance of six feet.
Catholic schools were scheduled to offer remote learning for the first two weeks following Christmas break. The Archdiocese of Chicago decided on this move due to social gatherings that may have taken place over the holidays.
Social unrest occurred during the summer in Chicago and several suburban communities following the death of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25. Several protests were held by Black Lives Matter supporters. Adults and youths of all ages groups and backgrounds took part. Demonstrations were held in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn but both marches were peaceful. Another protest was held along Roberts Road in Palos Hills. The marchers were greeted by a group of hecklers who opposed the Black Lives Matter movement.
With Tier 3 mitigations presently in effect by the governor, tensions have risen as the year ends. Some restaurants have defied state orders by offering indoor dining. Some local leaders have stated that police departments should not give out citations to these owners, many of whom are having a difficult time remaining in operation.
But as we enter 2021, two vaccines have been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration that can effectively combat COVID-19. Pfizer and Moderna is currently being distributed throughout Illinois and the nation. The first doses are going to health care workers and nursing home residents. Most people will receive the vaccines by June.
The changing of the guard will take place in several communities in 2021. Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton has decided to retire next spring after 20 years in the position. Trustee Kelly Burke, who is also a state representative, is running for Evergreen Park mayor. Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is also retiring next spring. Trustee Terry Vorderer is running for mayor in that village.
Other important stories featured Dick’s Sporting Goods to occupy one level of the old Carson’s at the Chicago Ridge Mall. The old Yellow Freight trucking terminal was leveled in October in Chicago Ridge to make room for future development.
Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan retired after 27 years in the position He retired on Oct. 31 and was replaced by Jeff Cucio, who has served as a deputy chief for the city. Palos Hills has been in the top 10 for several years as a municipality with the lowest crime in the state.

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