By failing to enforce local law Decatur residents are more at risk to COVID-19
COVID-19 infections in Decatur are at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic. In the last week of October, the county’s positivity rate was 15.4%. In response to the high positivity rate and other metrics, the state issued mitigation measures on November 2 for our area including no indoor dining. Activities such as indoor dining and drinking at bars puts customers and employees at an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 relative to other activities due to the close proximity of individuals (<6 ft.) and the length of time in close proximity (>15 minutes).
Despite the elevated health risks to Decatur citizens, some restaurants and bars continue to have indoor service. Moreover, some of the restaurants and bars that continue to provide indoor service have previously been found to have violated city code and/or Macon County Health Department guidelines as it pertains to COVID-19 including employees not wearing face coverings (https://food.maconchd.org/food/search/).
INDOOR DINING AND BAR SERVICE DURING MITIGATION MEASURES VIOLATES CITY CODE
Activities such as indoor dining and bar service not only increase the risk of COVID-19 infection relative to carryout or delivery, it is also a violation of local law for those entities that have a city license or permit such as a liquor license. Revisions to City Code Chapters 50 and 52 passed by the city council on August 3 states "Licensees shall be prohibited from allowing persons to congregate on licensed premises in a number greater than allowed by guidelines set forth in Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity guidelines."
Since the start of the pandemic, Decatur has issued zero sanctions against entities that violated COVID-19 safety guidelines despite some entities being in violation of city code or safety guidelines on multiple occasions as documented by the Macon County Health Department or city. The lack of enforcement is incompatible with making the health and safety of our citizens our top priority.
THE CITY HAS THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO ENFORCE COVID-19 SAFETY GUIDELINES
The City Manager has significant authority to alter how money is spent within budget categories, and as such, the city has great flexibility in its allocation of resources. Furthermore, all indications are that the city's 2020 deficit will be significantly less than originally projected. Unfortunately, the city did not pivot to spending the resources necessary to better protect our citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, some city officials have incorrectly claimed that the city does not have the time and/or resources to do systematic checks of businesses with permits and licenses. In recent weeks, the city hired two Community Liaison Officers within the Decatur Police Department, outsourced public works positions at approximately double the cost of hiring city employees, and has had the time and resources to issue over 2,000 weed ordinance violations since April.
OTHER MORE POPULOUS CENTRAL ILLINOIS CITIES HAVE BEEN ABLE TO MORE EFFECTIVELY KEEP THEIR CITIZENS SAFE
Other more populous cities in central Illinois are doing far better at keeping their citizens safe, and the counties they are located in are not in the warning level as issued by the state. These cities have acted decisively to protect their residents. In addition to enforcement of local laws, the city council should revisit requirements for face coverings, institute checks for businesses with permits and licenses, and explore incentives to entities that are and have been following COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Moreover, other entities can assist. For example, multiple media outlets have recently been airing or publishing stories about restaurants and bars in Decatur that are continuing to have indoor dining. Rather than highlighting activities that put residents at elevated risk for COVID-19, media outlets might consider featuring businesses that have and continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines. Such businesses may see increased sales through carry-out and delivery orders thereby supporting local businesses while reducing risk to public safety.
THE DECATUR CITY COUNCIL SHOULD INSTILL CONFIDENCE THAT OUR CITY IS AND WILL REMAIN SAFE
Protecting the health of our citizens and the city’s economic recovery will require citizens having assurance that the entities they frequent are safe, and I am very thankful to the many individuals and entities that are following safety guidelines and local law. When entities refuse to follow guidelines and break local laws, it can corrode support for the entity. When the city fails to enforce local law, it is both unfair to the entities that are following the law and decreases public trust. The city council should instill confidence that our city is and will remain safe through greater enforcement of local laws that protect the health of Decatur residents from COVID-19.