Opinion: Easing restrictions in coronavirus wake is irresponsible
Some political leaders, especially those on the extreme far right, are calling for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted, even though the number of infections continues to increase. These officials are being irresponsible. With them on the far right extreme, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker on the far left extreme, the public must be wondering what is really being done and does anyone really care?
Originally published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group May 14, 2020
By Ray Hanania
It’s pretty clear that where people live closer together, the incidents of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic are greater while areas where people live further apart, the numbers of infections are lower.
You could interpret that to mean that poorer communities are suffering more than wealthier communities, which might explain why nearly half of Illinois’ coronavirus cases are in Cook County. The highest concentrations are in Cook County in Winnebago County in Rockford, and downstate in St. Louis.
That’s given some more affluent communities with larger homes and land between homes, and rural areas with lower population density the appearance of negligible exposure based on fewer cases.
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Minority communities including African American and Hispanic areas of the Northern Illinois have been particularly hit hard.
While people focus on the numbers, they really should focus on the percentages. What percentage of a population has been infected? The areas where the lower numbers look less alarming than other areas can be misleading.
Cook County has more than 52,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. But Cook County has nearly 6 million people densely packed, while the rest of the state has far more infections spread out.
The IDPH reported Sunday a total of 77,741 cases and 3,406 deaths, in 98 counties in Illinois.
Illinois has 12.6 million residents and Cook County accounts for more than half of the COVID-19 cases and the deaths.
In response to the pandemic, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has extended the “stay-at-home” order until May 29, and requiring anyone over the age of two to wear a facemask when in public.
Pritzker, who bought and paid for his election with his billions in assets and resources, hasn’t done a great job of leading the state through this crisis.
But that’s not a reason for politicians to exploit the pandemic for their own personal political agendas, like the Mayor of Orland Park, Keith Pekau. Pekau, a gardener and fertilizer businessman, stumbled into office by accident when the voters ousted the longtime Mayor there, Dan McLaughlin. McLaughlin was a good mayor who incited a popular rebellion against himself when he proposed taking a huge pension and salary hike.
Pekau happened to be the only other choice for voters winning because of the anti-McLaughlin backlash. Pekau is taking the huge salary nonetheless, even though Orland Park is run by a highly paid Village Manager. You can’t have both. But instead of correcting that problem, Pekau is using it to bolster his political ambitions and seeking to restore an extreme conservative movement reminiscent of the Tea Party fanatics, who once threatened societal disruption.
Pekau said he wouldn’t take the pension increase; the law says he can, even if voters in Orland Park are unfortunate enough not to remove him from office in this Spring’s elections.
Not surprisingly, Pekau wants to re-open Orland Park and has been touting his plans to schedule summer music festivals selling tickets and putting out press releases pandering to the closeted frustrations of his constituents to his own, selfish political agenda.
While Orland Park suffers under economic uncertainty, and poor leadership, other regions are struggling to survive, too.
The economic burdens caused by restricting the public, closing many businesses and requiring “essential” businesses to tightly manage their commerce practices, have been brutal.
The unemployment rate in Illinois is huge, with more than 4.6 percent of the state’s work force, ranking 17 worst among the county’s 50 states.
How do you balance the economic concerns against the life and death concerns? It’s not easy, but that’s exactly what leadership is all about, navigating tough issues. Some leaders are capable and others, like Pekau, are not.
What would I do? Well, I wouldn’t be planning to restore business as usual in Illinois and in the state’s heaviest hit county in Cook. But there are ways to be creative, helping businesses that have closed with funding. Easing the taxation burden on them and forcing the utility companies and leasing companies to cutback along with everyone else. Waive leases for two months. Waive taxes for two months. Unemployment compensation has been doubled and extended.
Take price gouging seriously by freezing all prices. Punish those who are selling food and essentials are extended higher prices.
You took the office when things were easy. Now that things are tough, it’s time for them to roll up their sleeves and do what’s right for the public, not for themselves.
This virus is taking lives. The focus should be on protecting residents and coming up with ways to help our struggling business community, too.
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