La Salle County adapts COVID-19 guidelines to be in line with state’s Phase 5

Masks are not required for vaccinated visitors, employees

La Salle County Board Chairman Don Jensen (R-Deer Park) was eager to officially suspend emergency COVID-19 procedures Monday.

When asked by a county board member during Monday’s board meeting when the suspension should take effect, prior to the board’s vote, he looked at the clock: “What time is it,” indicating his answer would be immediately.

The County Board voted in favor of suspending its emergency COVID-19 procedures, which included wearing a mask upon entering the building, and adopting the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Phase 5 procedures for all employees, officials, vendors and citizens entering the La Salle County facilities on Etna Road and Madison Street in Ottawa.

After approving the measure, some county board members removed their masks, as the guidelines now allow for anyone vaccinated not to have to wear one. Some kept them on. Ten county board members weren’t wearing their masks prior to the vote.

Board member Thomas Green (R-Streator) asked if it was necessary for the measure to include the county “automatically returns to implementation and enforcement should the state of Illinois revert back to a lower phase of COVID-19 recovery.”

The county’s attorney Patrick Herrmann said the “automatic” language allows for the county to take action quickly and revert back to its prior practices should the pandemic escalate quickly and the state’s guidelines change.

Board member Joseph Witczak (D-Peru) said the language gives up the board’s responsibility to vote on guidelines and noted the county board chairman can act in an emergency situation, suggesting an amendment to the resolution.

Board member Jill Bernal (D-Peru) said from a medical standpoint mask guidelines help protect the spread of the virus. Brian Dose (D-Ottawa) and Mike Kasap (D-La Salle) also spoke in favor of keeping the language in the resolution.

“We should provide the highest standard,” Dose said.

Board member Jerry Myers (R-Streator) said he doesn’t believe there is scientific evidence that masks work.

“Come on, let’s great real, OK?” he said.

Several studies have released scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of masks against the spread of COVID-19, including a recent study published in “Health Affairs, that compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia. It found that mask mandates led to a slowdown in daily COVID-19 growth rate, which became more apparent over time. The first five days after a mandate, the daily growth rate slowed by 0.9 percentage points compared to the five days prior to the mandate; at three weeks, the daily growth rate had slowed by 2 percentage points, according to an article from the University of California at San Francisco.

According to Phase 5 guidelines, large gatherings of all sizes can resume across all industry settings, and Phase 5 removes requirements to institute mandatory social distancing in seated venues, as well as daily health screenings of employees and visitors. Facilities still are expected to continue to allow for social distancing to the extent possible, especially indoors.

The resolution passed by the County Board does not affect entry at the La Salle County Nursing Home, La Salle County Jail or La Salle County Juvenile Detention Facility, which will maintain their own regulatory guidance.

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.