On March 18, 2020, Oak Park, Illinois — one of the closest suburbs to Chicago with a population of approximately 60,000 — issued a “Shelter in Place” order (the “Order”) for all Oak Park citizens and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Order comes after a resident was found to have contracted the virus in the western part of the town earlier in the day. The full text of the Order may be found here.

The Order requires all residents to “shelter at their place of residence” from March 20 through and including April 3, although the Order may be rescinded before April 3 or extended beyond April 3. Crucially, all non-essential businesses “[a]re required to cease all activities at facilities located within [Oak Park]” except for the performance of duties necessary for maintaining the value of a business’s inventory, ensuring business security, processing payroll, and attending to employee benefit matters (referred to as “Minimum Basic Operations” in the Order). The Order also imposes broad restrictions on travel. All travel is prohibited unless deemed: (1) “Essential Travel”; or (2) necessary (a) to perform work for an “Essential Business”; or (b) to perform an “Essential Activity.”

There are several important carve-outs in this Order.

First, businesses may continue operations consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing activities at their own residences. In other words, employees may still work from home even if the employer is not an “Essential Business” (as defined below) and must close its physical office or retail space located within Oak Park. And non-essential businesses may still engage in Minimum Basic Operations as defined above.

Second, “Essential Businesses” will remain open to the public. “Essential Businesses” include:

  • “Healthcare Operations” and essential infrastructure related to those operations. “Healthcare Operations” includes hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, biotechnology companies, veterinary clinics, and medical cannabis dispensaries.
  • Grocery stores, convenience stores, and food banks.
  • Food cultivation businesses (i.e., farms).
  • Social service businesses providing basic life necessities for the economically disadvantaged, laundromats, restaurants but only for delivery or carry out – all in house service is banned.
  • Childcare facilities (subject to several requirements set forth in the Order).
  • Travel companies (taxis, airlines, etc.), to enable residents to perform Essential Activities or Essential Travel (as defined below).

Third, residents may still perform “Essential Activities,” which include:

  • Performing tasks essential to their health and safety or that of the household (including pets).
  • Obtaining medication, supplies, groceries and other household consumer products.
  • Caring for a family member or pet in another residence.
  • Engaging in outdoor activities, as long as residents maintain a six-foot distance from all non-household members and maintain other “Social Distancing” requirements outlined in the Order.

Fourth, residents may engage in “Essential Travel” which most notably includes travel necessary to perform Essential Activities, to work for or operate an Essential Business, to maintain Minimum Basic Operations, or to care for a vulnerable person (minors, children, the elderly, etc.).

So what are the implications of this Order and what does it say for the future? As we discuss here, many countries in California are already under similar shelter in place orders. Chicago and, indeed, the whole state of Illinois may be next. Late Wednesday evening, March 18, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker stated that Illinois will “use[] every tool at our disposal to respond to [COVID-19].” He then cryptically suggested that “grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations—things we all need—will not be closing down,” potentially implying that he is giving serious consideration to a shelter in place order in some form for the full state of Illinois.

This has obvious serious implications for the entire business community.

Please visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for answers to many key questions businesses/employers face in this time of uncertainty.