As COVID-19 surges in Decatur, Macon County Board of Health votes to reduce the amount of information it provides to the public
Since the start of the pandemic, over 260 Macon County residents have died from COVID-19. The county’s per capita death rate and case rate is greater, and the vaccination rate is lower, than any other central Illinois county with a mid-sized city. Currently, Decatur and its citizens are experiencing some of the worst COVID-19 health metrics since November 2020 including extremely high case rates, test positivity, and hospital admissions. For the week of December 12-18, hospital visits were at the highest level and ICU bed availability was at the lowest level since the start of the pandemic: https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/data/countymetrics.html?county=Macon.
IN THE MIDST OF A CRISIS, GREATER COMMUNICATION WITH THE PUBLIC IS THE BETTER APPROACH
As Decatur and Macon County continue to experience the worst public health crisis of our lifetimes, a divided Macon County Board of Health voted to reduce the amount of information it provides to the public from daily to weekly at its meeting on December 21. Thus, citizens of Decatur will now be less informed by its health department of current pandemic conditions and will have less time to react to sometimes rapid changes in pandemic trends.
Some of the reasons those advocating for the change included board members and citizens being inundated with emails and media reports about the pandemic, and that having fewer reports about the pandemic may lead to the public increasing its attention to it. In addition, some advocates for the change emphasized the desire to have more information about other health issues such as the flu. (According to the CDC, an estimated 359,000 individuals died in the U.S. from the flu in the last decade compared to over 815,000 individuals in the U.S. who have died from COVID-19 in less than two years (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/past-seasons.html).
Curbing the data that the Macon County Health Department provides to Decatur and Macon County residents is unnecessary and is contrary to the vision and mission of the health department which is to “lead Macon County to be one of the healthiest counties in Illinois and … promote the health and healthy practices of all residents of Macon County.” As it pertains to COVID-19, Decatur and Macon County is the worst county in central Illinois with a mid-sized city. There is a vast number of citizens and businesses in Decatur not taking basic safety precautions such as social distancing, wearing of a face covering indoors, and not being vaccinated. Daily reports from the Macon County Health Department are important reminders of the dangers of COVID-19 and represent real-time data for decision making. Furthermore, daily COVID-19 metrics such as number of cases are a predictor of future hospitalizations, deaths, and loss of workforce due to illness.
The video of the meeting can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkn4xXJVF9c with the discussion and vote to remove beginning in earnest at 45:52.
FOR DECATUR RESIDENTS, THE WORST HEALTH IMPACTS OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC MAY BE AHEAD OF US. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.
Decatur citizens should do what they can to protect their family, friends, and neighbors from COVID-19 including being fully vaccinated, getting boosted for extra protection, wearing face coverings while indoors, and practicing social distancing. By law, individuals in Decatur are required to wear face coverings in indoor public places regardless of vaccination status. The City of Decatur has three local laws pertaining to COVID-19 safety that should be enforced.
I understand there may be hesitancy and skepticism from our citizens given the numerous entities that are not implementing simple and effective safety precautions that save lives. With that said, I ask that citizens please take the steps necessary to protect yourself, your family, and your fellow citizens. I thank the many entities that are following COVID-19 safety laws and taking precautions to keep themselves and others safe.