An Open Letter to the People of the 63rd District

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This week’s announcement by the Governor that McHenry County will be included in the Northeast Region as part of his “Restore Illinois” program to reopen the Illinois economy has resulted in a variety of responses from throughout the 63rd District. I’ve listened to all of you, from those who think that we need to continue with the current program until the number of new cases drops to those who want to reopen now.

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I’ve sent a letter to the Governor urging him to amend his plan and exclude McHenry County from the Northeast Region, citing the number of cases of COVID-19 in the county compared to those in Cook County and Chicago, and how those areas will have a much larger impact on the decision of when to reopen. The fact that the Mayor of Chicago has announced a reopening plan that is even more restrictive makes it even less likely that McHenry County will reopen anytime soon under his plan.

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We’ve seen entire swaths of our economy go into the tank; the restaurant industry has been especially hard hit. Of the half-million people who work in that industry in Illinois, over sixty percent are out of work. The economic toll of the social shutdown can go on for just so long before it becomes unbearable. Public health, personal freedom, and economics are not the only competing values at stake. We’re now beginning to experience the social and psychological costs of prolonged isolation, which will only get worse as we cancel summer events, from neighborhood gatherings to the annual Barn Dance and all the other wonderful events that make this county such a special place to live. Will 4th of July celebrations be next? As of now, the County Fair has not been cancelled; let’s hope that it’s not.

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At the outset of the pandemic, the measures ordered by the Governor were necessary, but they are not sustainable. His “Restore Illinois” plan will not work, at least not without the kind of enforcement that none of us will accept. We don’t like being told what to do, especially by a government that failed to plan for this in the first place. Now we have a plan, devised without consultation with the Legislature, which includes “contact tracing”. That may have worked before there were thousands of cases. But that ship has sailed, it won’t work now. For those who think that wearing a mask is a public duty, are you willing to allow the government to follow you around to see where you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with? Liberties surrendered during times of crisis are rarely restored in full when the crisis ends. 9/11 taught us that.

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A vaccine, if one is ever found, is months away. We need to move forward, and how we respond will determine how quickly we can get back to normal, whatever “normal” comes to mean. It would seem that our failure to learn the lessons of the Spanish influenza a century ago means that we’ll most likely respond to COVID-19 in much in the same way the country did then: in fits and starts, a system of closings, re-openings and still more closings, where individual responsibility and self-discipline mattered more than government dictates. Something tells me that individual responsibility and self-discipline will get us there sooner.

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