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Park District workers ask for more safety, transparency around COVID-19 park closures

“The public is not being informed when field houses are shut down due to someone getting a positive COVID result,” park supervisor Venus Roman-Valino said.

People sitting inside circles in Millennium Park
COVID social distancing measures in Millennium Park in June.
Scott Olson/Getty

Park District employees want the district to provide better safety measures against the coronavirus and say there needs to be more communication with the public about closures due COVID-19.

“We are lacking transparency, communication and [the] implementation of policies equally,” a park supervisor Venus Roman-Valino said.

“Workers are scared, and the district is not easing workers’ minds by not communicating or being transparent,” Roman-Valino said. “Workers feel like [the district] is hiding information that could affect us ... so that the city can keep the parks open.”

The Park District has had seven COVID-19 cases that caused nine parks to close programs and facilities, according to spokeswoman Michele Lemons. Haas Park, Columbus Park, Davis Square Park and Rowan Park have reopened. Cole Park is to reopen Wednesday. While Cole Park, West Pullman Park, Ada Park, Piotrowski Park and Rigger’s Shop at Garfield Trade Yard remain closed until later in August.

When a park has a positive COVID case, said Lemons, it is closed for a day to be disinfected. The group of park staff and program participants exposed to the virus are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

In response to employee feedback, Lemons said the district now informs the “entire workforce when a positive COVID case is confirmed” and updates SEIU Local 73. But some workers say the public is ignored in this chain of communication.

“The public is not being informed when field houses are shut down due to someone getting a positive COVID result,” said Roman-Valino, who has worked as a park supervisor for 20 years and is an executive board member at SEIU Local 73.

The Park District issued a statement saying it implemented “robust safety training” and provided PPE and disinfecting procedures. But some employees feel current measures aren’t enough.

Roman-Valino said employees haven’t been properly instructed on how to use disinfecting chemicals to clean facilities and haven’t been given adequate resources.

Workers want equipment such as contactless thermometers and plexiglass at the front desks. They also want rules such as mandatory temperature checks, rather than just being “told to self-diagnose,” said Jeffrey Howard, executive vice president of SEIU Local 73, which represents over 2,500 Park District workers.

“Workers want to be safe,” said Howard. “They want protocols on how to deal with things.” He said there should be a uniform approach throughout the parks, because “people interpret messages differently.”