With 30 virtual town halls under his belt, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, is ready to be in the same room as his constituents at the first in-person event in the Illinois delegation since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Casten will host an in-person town hall at 11:30 a.m. July 17 at American Legion Post 80, 4000 Saratoga Ave., Downers Grove, with both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests. The 200 in-person RSVPs for the event filled in two weeks, but interested constituents will be able to attend virtually via Casten’s Facebook livestream.
To attend the event, constituents had to take a survey that asked whether they were vaccinated. Emilia Rowland, Casten’s communications director, said unvaccinated individuals will be asked to wear a mask at the event, and that the team is operating on an honor system.
“I hosted more than 30 virtual town halls and roundtables over the course of the pandemic to help folks stay informed and engaged no matter what but seeing 200 constituents sign up to attend in person for our town hall in less than two weeks, I think it’s clear that vaccinated people are eager and ready to come together in person,” Casten said in an email. “I’m proud of the hard work from our community to get Illinois to stage five of reopening, and I’m proud to host the first in-person hybrid town hall in the Illinois delegation.”
Rowland said Casten’s team is aware that the situation is fluid, and they will be monitoring and following Illinois Department of Public Health and local health advisories. She said Casten and his team have worked hard to ensure safety is a top priority at the event, which is why they decided to wait to host the event until about a month after Gov. JB Pritzker’s announcement that the state would move into Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan.
“This is something we all worked hard on getting right,” Rowland said. “Our focus is safety, and I think seeing [so many] registrants in under a week really highlights the hunger of the community to get back to doing in-person things like this.”
Rowland said in addition to wearing masks and spaced-out seating, Casten and his team are asking all in-person registrants to be respectful of one another, meaning if someone is feeling ill, they are encouraged to stay home and view the livestream. The virtual option also was intended to provide a way for those who are still nervous about gatherings to be involved, Rowland said.
During the event, Casten will take questions from both the in-person and virtually attending crowd in an effort to make the event inclusive, Rowland said. She said the decision to host the event indoors was made with virtual audio needs in mind.
“We want to make sure we’re accommodating everyone,” Rowland said. “This is really about engaging with the community and moving forward past the pandemic to be together.”
Rowland said while connection is the primary focus of the event, she expects Casten will be asked to discuss topics such as balancing safety with the recovery of the economy, the child tax credit and the climate.
The decision to host an in-person town hall was bolstered by community support for such an event, Rowland said. From virtual event questions to texts and emails and personal conversations Casten had with constituents, Rowland said it became clear that everyone was on board and comfortable.
“We had so much feedback asking when we would return, and we really wanted to figure out how we could do that as the state was getting to a safe space to be able to do it as well,” Rowland said. “We’ll change guidance as necessary, but right now vaccination rates in the district are good, and we’re just thrilled to have the opportunity to do this safely.”