Low COVID-19 vaccination rate in Decatur threatens public health and economic recovery
Macon County has the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated residents of any central Illinois county with a mid-size city. The county’s fully vaccinated rate of 39.5% is lower than that of Champaign (49.7%), McLean (49.3%) and Sangamon (50.8%) counties (as of 8/6/21). Simultaneously, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Macon County has risen substantially in the past month from 18 new cases, 4 hospitalized, and 52 in home isolation the week prior to 7/2/21 to 170 cases, 17 hospitalized, and 289 in home isolation the week prior to 8/6. COVID-19 metrics in Macon County are worse this week than they were a year ago. As of 8/6/20, there were 8 hospitalized and 191 in home isolation and there were 127 new cases from the week prior.
Unequivocally, getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect yourself and protect others from COVID-19, and Decatur residents must do a better job of making sure they are protected during the most significant public health crisis of our lifetimes.
HESITATION IN RETURNING TO WORK IS JUSTIFIED WITH LARGE PORTION OF POPULATION UNVACCINATED
Decatur’s unemployment rate of 9.6% in June continues to lag substantially behind the state and national rates of 7.2% and 5.9%, respectively. There are a multitude of reasons why Decatur’s unemployment rate continues to lag state and national averages from additional unemployment benefits to costs of childcare. One factor that may also be influencing unemployment rates is that Decatur is not protecting public health as well as other municipalities and employees are fearful of contracting COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, Macon County had the highest per capita death rate and highest per capita number of cases from COVID-19 of any other county in central Illinois with a mid-sized city, and our death rate from COVID-19 in 2020 was 71% greater than the second highest county, Sangamon (as of 12/31/20).
Many jobs are low-paying and lack health care benefits (Decatur’s poverty rate and median household income are lower than state and national averages, and Macon County health metrics are in the lower half among Illinois counties). Furthermore, at the national level, the “reservation wage” (the minimum paycheck necessary for an individual to accept a new position) has increased 16% from the previous year (Barron’s 8/2/21). Thus, in a county where vaccination rates are low and wearing of facial coverings indoors is rare, employees may be evaluating the health risks associated with returning to work and whether they will have the financial resources available to them if they are required to stay home due to COVID-19.
If employers are unable to create an environment for workers where their employees are safe, employees may consider other options. Private employers can play an important role in encouraging and requiring vaccines and ensuring that their customers are following COVID-19 safety guidelines and laws. To not do so may risk the health of employees and customers, and risk future business growth with lower numbers of people returning to work.
Finally, the city council should review and consider revisions to COVID-19 laws and discuss how these laws will be enforced. This includes revisiting requirements for face coverings indoors, instituting checks for businesses with permits and licenses, and providing assistance to those that need it in order to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.
FILLING OPEN CITY COUNCIL SEAT TO BEGIN WITH REVIEW OF APPLICATIONS
At a special city council meeting on August 9, 2021 at 5:30 PM, the Decatur City Council will review applications for the vacant city council seat. The review of applications will take place in Closed Executive Session. It is possible that after the closed session, the council could appoint an individual that evening. However, given that council members will not have interviewed finalists and learned their views on a wide range of city issues, an appointment on Monday evening would be problematic. I would encourage the public to provide comments on what they would like to see in their next city council member during the “Appearance of Citizens” portion of Monday’s meeting that takes place prior to the closed session.
PLEASE EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS AT THE NEXT CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Meetings take place at the Council Chambers located on the third floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance. Citizens are encouraged to attend meetings and express their views. Citizens are allotted 3 minutes per person near the beginning of each city council meeting. In addition, citizens can provide comments regarding one regular agenda item per meeting for up to three minutes provided they notify the city in advance (and prior to the start of the meeting). You can request to speak on a particular agenda item at a council meeting by filling out an on-line form at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/advance-request-to-speak-at-council-meeting/.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss city issues with a council member, phone numbers and email addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE
An agenda and information about each agenda item for each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.