Decatur needs to enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines
Everyone I know has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The toll on human health has been staggering, daily lives have been significantly disrupted, and the economic consequences are both unprecedented and likely to be long-lasting. In the absence of a vaccine, more effective treatments and extensive testing, some of the most effective tools to stop the spread of the virus include wearing a facial covering, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. Not all entities are using these three tools and thus, it is time for city government to act.
DECATUR RESIDENTS WANT COVID-19 SAFETY GUIDELINES ENFORCED
The city of Decatur conducted a COVID-19 Awareness and Impact Survey between April 22 – May 6 in which 1,688 residents responded. Based on the responses to the survey’s open-ended questions, citizens had three major concerns including “… better enforcement of measures particularly at shops and big stores …” (such as social distancing), “wearing masks in public to be made mandatory …”, and “a call for a slow, calculated and monitored reopening of the economy, starting with local shops and stores.”
THE CITY HAS THE ABILITY TO ENFORCE COVID-19 SAFETY GUIDELINES AND SHOULD DO SO
Safety guidelines have been issued for a large number of entities ranging from retail stores to schools. For example, under Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan, employees at restaurants and bars should wear face coverings and tables should be at least 6 ft. apart. In addition, many entities have capacity guidelines. Many establishments are following the guidelines, but not all. By not following guidelines, these establishments are unnecessarily putting their customers and employees, as well as the individuals those customers and employees interact with, at increased safety risk during the pandemic. Furthermore, these entities may make it more difficult to prevent a resurgence of the virus in our city.
THE DECATUR CITY COUNCIL CAN REQUIRE COVID-19 SAFETY GUIDELINES BE FOLLOWED AS A CONDITION OF LICENSES AND PERMITS
One way the Decatur City Council can require greater accountability is by mandating establishments that sell liquor or engage in video gambling to follow state guidelines as a condition of the licenses that they obtain from the city. Licensed establishments that do not comply would be subject to fines (the fines might in turn be used to reimburse the city for COVID-19-related expenses such as providing masks for those in need). As another example, the city recently issued permits to restaurants/bars to allow for outdoor dining on public streets, sidewalks, and rights-of-way. As a condition of those permits, safety guidelines are to be followed. If the guidelines are not being followed (and not all restaurants/bars are currently following them), the permit should be revoked.
INDIVIDUALS SHOULD FOLLOW SAFETY GUIDELINES
On April 30th, the city proposed an ordinance that would fine individuals a minimum of $250 (and/or be subject to other remedies) for failing to wear protective face coverings when they leave their home or report to work. My concerns with this since tabled ordinance included large fines, lack of a defined end date, arbitrary guidelines for enforcement, putting police officers in an untenable position, and how the ordinance might impact small businesses and their customers. In addition, I indicated that the State of Illinois had already issued guidelines for the use of face coverings and it is not clear why the city needs this ordinance.
Two and half months later, it is clear why the city of Decatur must enforce safety guidelines. Many entities including those that are issued permits from the city are not following COVID-19 safety guidelines. While I will continue to be opposed to large fines for individuals who fail to wear face masks for the reasons outlined above, entities have a responsibility to keep their workers and their customers safe. Furthermore, individuals that are medically able to wear a mask and practice social distancing should do so. This is particularly the case given that free masks are available at locations in the city such as the Civic Center and Transit Center. In the absence of federal and/or state action, enforcement responsibility rests with local government, and the city council should not disregard this responsibility.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY WILL BE DIFFICULT WITHOUT PROTECTING PUBLIC SAFETY
Over the long-term, our economic recovery will require citizens having confidence that the entities they frequent our safe. When entities are not following safety guidelines, it can corrode long-term confidence in both the entity and the city as a whole, subsequently dampening the prospects for economic recovery.
Our city’s number one priority is the health and safety of its residents. Not following safety guidelines unnecessarily increases safety risks and the consequences of not following guidelines endangers the health of others. The Decatur City Council can and should instill confidence that our city is safe by enforcing COVID-19 guidelines as a condition of permits and licenses. This should be done proactively and before a second wave of the virus arrives in central Illinois.