Champaign County: We need to get our shit together. COVID-19 cases in our county are rising exponentially. We cannot control what’s happening with pandemic around the nation or even around our region, but we can make a difference here.

Back in September, we wrote about how the return of University of Illinois students, coupled with large gatherings of people in the community, had the potential to do serious damage to C-U. Sadly, the COVID-19 situation across the nation, in our state, in our region, and yes, right here in Champaign County, has worsened to a frightening degree. While we’ve had a bit of good news in the form of a President-elect who believes in science and two promising vaccines on the horizon, we still have some months of pain to endure. If we don’t personally and collectively shift our behaviors, the pain could be even worse. The good news? We have the power to change this trajectory that we are on. The bad news? Too many don’t have the will, and there is a certain segment of people who just don’t care. 

The fall semester began with U of I’s COVID-19 cases growing beyond what the models anticipated. We lamented the lines at the bars, the house parties, the students breaking quarantine. While we believe bringing students back to campus was a mistake, they did manage to shut down the surge and keep the spread relatively under control.

Now, campus cases are on the rise again, but it’s because community spread is encroaching. We chastised the students for irresponsible behaviors, but we, as community members, are no better. When it looked like Region 6 was headed for further mitigation, and that U of I testing data would not figure into the decision, Champaign County folks were indignant. It felt unfair. Even without the U of I testing, we were keeping our positivity rates low while other more rural counties in the region (with less testing and much more pervasive pandemic denial) were about to put our region over the edge. We’ve been fortunate that our Champaign and Urbana mayors have been working with public health rather than against. However, it didn’t take long for us to catch up. We are now sitting at a 9.6% positivity rate at the time of writing (without the U of I results included), we recorded a day of 930 new cases in the last week, and hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise. The absence of clear and accurate messaging from the Trump administration and the lack of a comprehensive national plan has resulted in a patchwork of restrictions and mitigations in states and municipalities for a virus that doesn’t recognize borders. This lack of consistency allowed misinformation to fester, and left the responsibility for managing risk on the shoulders of individuals and businesses who are facing loss of lifestyle and livelihood.

Indoor dining has been shut down, except for at a few irresponsible places that don’t seem to have care or concern for the health of their communities (please continue to support restaurants that are doing the right thing. It's a painful time for them). 

A screenshot of an Instagram post from Pink Pig BBQ, referencing the fact that they are serving food indoors. Screenshot from Pink Pig BBQ Instagram.Screenshot from Pink Pig BBQ Instagram page.

Studies have shown that indoor dining is incredibly risky during this pandemic. It would be great if restaurants and bars were receiving federal relief because of this, unfortunately that has not happened. Now, restaurants and bars are having to pivot yet again, as are other businesses, as Tier 3 mitigations have been implemented throughout the entire state. Late last week, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) recommended all Champaign County schools go remote. Unit 4 immediately shifted the elementary students, who had been back in buildings for approximately three weeks, back to remote learning. Catholic schools are going remote as well, while most others in the area are sticking with their in-person plans, for now. Urbana schools were already remote. 

COVID fatigue is real. We’re exhausted. We’re desperate to have things “back to normal.” Even those of us who acknowledge how real and serious this is have pushed the limits of what we consider safe. When our area positivity rates were low, it felt more justifiable. Now it’s time to scale back. The ways to slow the spread have not changed. Dr. Anthony Fauci, and our own CUPHD Administrator Julie Pryde, have reiterated the same points over and over: Wear masks, physically distance, don’t gather indoors with people who are not in your household. You can hear the weariness in their voices as they repeat them.

We need to decide where our priorities are. If we want kids to be in school, if we want our local businesses to thrive, if we want to keep more and more people in our community from getting sick, then we need to make personal sacrifices for the collective good. We realize not everyone has the privilege of working from home, but we can all hunker down in one way or another to slow this speeding train. Please do not gather with family this Thanksgiving unless they are already in your everyday bubble. Yes, that sucks. It’s going to suck a lot more when you can’t be admitted to Carle because the beds are full, or when you can’t visit your loved one who is dying from respiratory failure, which is essentially drowning. The COVID tentacles of one event can reach quite far — the virus has a stranglehold on the country, and it’s continuing to have one on our community.  

We want people in our community to be healthy. We want our businesses to survive. Let’s work together to make sure those things happen.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.

Top screenshot from Champaign-Urbana Public Health Facebook page.