- <div style="background-image:url(/live/image/gid/198/width/1600/height/300/crop/1/50546_Middle_South_drone1.rev.1554236092.jpg)"/>
Chicago Tribune coverage of community forum
Lake Forest COVID-19 forum brings together local government, school and health care officials
Even as the state has loosened some restrictions around coronavirus-related closures, questions remain on what’s in store for Lake Forest area schools, health care facilities and municipal budgets.
In an attempt to shed light on the situation, officials from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, the three local school districts, Lake Forest College and Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital gathered for a virtual session June 2 addressing many of those topics.
With school buildings closed since March and remote learning in effect, school district officials are still not certain what education will look like come the fall.
“We plan on re-opening our schools in the fall if the state allows us to do so,” Lake Forest District 67 and 115 Superintendent Michael Simeck said.
Simeck said district officials are looking at three potential scenarios for the fall, depending on where the state is in its Restore Illinois plan.
The first scenario has the state in phase 5 of the recovery, allowing schools to re-open with a regular schedule amid heightened safety and health measures. The second potential scenario would be the continuation of the fully remote education approach if the state is in phase 2 or phase 3 of the restoration plan.
In the third scenario, which Simeck believes is the most likely, a combination of in-person and remote learning will be offered depending on grade level.
“We hear this is the most likely scenario for August, but this will change depending on the guidance we receive from the CDC, the Illinois Department of Public Health or from the state board of education,” Simeck said.
Simeck anticipated a decision would be made by late July or early August.
In the meantime, Simeck said district officials are looking at European schools and how they are handling the situation. He said staff professional development over the summer would focus on relationship building from a distance and lesson planning and assessment in a virtual environment.
“We hope that we don’t have to utilize anywhere near as much of this going forward as we have for the past several months, but we have to be prepared for the possibility that might occur,” Simeck said.
In Lake Bluff, District 65 Superintendent Jean Sophie is retiring. Her successor, Lisa Leali, is set to take over July 1. She has formed a task force composed of parents, teachers, nurses and administrators who will review surveys in an effort to gather input on the situation.
Sophie said the school district has already purchased personal protective equipment and is evaluating classroom layouts to figure out how to accommodate as many students as they can in a safe environment.
At Lake Forest College, President Stephen Schutt said the intention is to get the approximately 1,550 students back to Lake Forest later this year.
If students return, Schutt anticipates an untraditional calendar that would allow everyone to leave campus before Thanksgiving for a two-month break between semesters.
He said testing and tracing would be available on campus and senses the density of the residence halls will be reduced, with majority of the students living in single rooms. He also spoke of smaller classes and the establishment of shifts in the dining room.
“I am very optimistic that we are going to be able to do this and do this well,” Schutt said. “Frankly, I look forward to the experience.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, said Tom McAfee, president and CEO.
McAfee said at the peak, the hospital had 68 to 70 cases per day in-house with approximately 35 intensive care patients.
Through June 4, a hospital spokeswoman said there 523 COVID-19 admissions and 473 related discharges. She declined to provide the number of COVID-19 deaths at the hospital.
McAfee noted the care continues.
“We are far from confident that this is anywhere close from being behind us,” McAfee said.
McAfee said the hospital is safe and precautions have been taken patients should come back to the hospital for non COVID-19 cases, as they have seen a decrease in heart attack and stroke cases arriving at the emergency room.
“We know these diseases continue to exist in the community. If people in receiving that care it actually can be at the expense of their health and the health of our community,” McAfee said.
Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, chief medical officer, said even with the advance to the state’s phase 3, social distancing should be emphasized as well as the wearing of masks and frequent hand washing. He does not want to see people going to concerts because of the large crowds, but said going to restaurants was OK as long as there was proper physical distancing.
“If you are in a church where people aren’t wearing masks, leave,” Kopin said. “God will forgive you. God will praise you, as will Dr. Kopin.”
Both Lake Forest City Manager Jason Wicha and Village Administrator Drew Irvin acknowledged the financial ramifications of the outbreak.
Irvin said he expected a 25% decrease in sales tax revenue for the village due to the coronavirus, but he thought the village was positioned well to handle the situation. Wicha said the city would feel an impact but there reserves and “rainy day” funds in place.