Too often in the past two years living under the cloud of COVID-19, local government, school and health leaders skipped a beat before making a decision about vaccinations or mask wearing policies, among other related concerns.
That hesitation took hold with the public, too, wondering, “What now?” before abiding by mandates, or, sometimes, thumbing their noses because they either didn’t agree with them or were simply confused by conflicting messages.
This waiting by local officials looking for state or federal guidance or guidelines to be set was unnecessary and must be avoided in the future. Responses need to be more immediate, and make sense for the best of our public welfare. What’s needed is legislation that sets guidelines and provides tools for agencies to follow based on what has the greatest chance for positive results when faced with the next health crisis, or, more immediately, what’s the next consequence of the current pandemic. Just this week we are learning of new shutdowns in China and Europe related to COVID-19 outbreaks.
We can’t be left with no rollout plan for vaccines or a lack of call centers for citizens to contact when they are told to “look at our website” and the person with the question doesn’t even have a computer. These are examples of things that have happened in northern Illinois in the past year.
We also need state resources available for local and county health departments to rely on. County health departments can’t afford to be staffed at levels needed when faced with a pandemic. They need to be able to reach out to state support staff when needed.
If we have state laws in place and action plans that provide a clearly defined set of rules, then citizens are more likely to comply and with more immediacy. And, as we’ve learned with the recent executive order from Gov. JB Pritzker that was overturned in court over school mask mandates, these are not laws with lasting teeth.
Illinois Senate Deputy Minority Leader Sue Rezin, R-Morris, renewed her call this month to pass a series of legislative bills she introduced last year in response to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the La Salle Veterans Home. In 2020, 36 veterans died at the Veterans Home during a COVID-19 outbreak. Rezin says lives could have been saved with a quicker and better state response to the outbreak.
The legislation, Rezin said, would address the governor’s “failure to implement critical recommendations” from the Illinois Auditor General’s Performance Audit of the Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak at the Quincy Veterans Home, a report Pritzker received in 2019.
Two of Rezin’s bills address how Illinois prepares for and responds to outbreaks, while another strengthens the powers of the Inspector General when conducting state investigations.
Senate Bill 3170 sets a timetable for when the Illinois Department of Public Health should conduct an on-site visit after being notified of an outbreak. Senate Bill 1471 requires facilities licensed and operated by the state to conduct outbreak preparedness drills. And Senate Bill 1445 provides the Inspector General subpoena powers to ensure cooperation with state investigations.
These bills might not be exactly what’s needed, but they deserve a hearing and action. The mission is to create reliable laws based on protecting citizens during a health crisis. We need this now.