By CARL GREEN
Edwardsville, IL – The faculty union at SIU-Edwardsville is demanding more efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s issuance of new tighter restrictions for restaurants and bars in response to persistent high positive test rates for COVID-19 in the state’s Region 4, which includes Metro-East and surrounding counties.
“We are working in the middle of the hottest hot spot for COVID-19 in Illinois, and yet the information we see from our institution lacks transparency, the preparations for face-to-face learning have been inadequate and now the university is gearing up to blame students for a likely outbreak,” the SIUE Faculty Association said in a statement released by its president, Mark Poepsel, an associate professor of mass communications at the university.
He noted that the university asked students and employees to avoid COVID-19 “red zones” over Labor Day but failed to mention that the university itself is in such a zone.
“We implore the SIUE administration to either implement a robust testing and contact tracing program or move all classes online immediately until the Metro East has regained the metrics for full Phase 3 operations again,” the union said.
“As things stand now, the Metro East is an outbreak risk to our campus community, just as the sudden influx of college students has been an outbreak risk to Edwardsville.”
While Western Illinois University and the University of Illinois are requiring testing, the union said, SIUE has not revealed the level of filtration in its HVAC system nor posted the number of positive cases among students and employees.
If the university fails to roll out mandatory surveillance testing, the union said, then classes should be moved online. “Otherwise, our university will be complicit in contributing to preventable deaths,” Poepsel and the union said.
‘A MISTAKE’ TO LOOSEN RESTRICTIONS
In announcing the restrictions last week, Pritzker said the region’s positive test rate has remained dangerously high, averaging 9.6 percent. He said it turned out to be a mistake to have adopted less restrictive rules in the region previously, which opened up restaurants and bars to some extent.
“Let me just say it was a mistake, in my view, to make that adjustment that we made in Region 4,” he said. “We were trying to understand the concept that the region is slightly different. It’s next to another metro area (St. Louis) that had different measures, and we wanted to be responsive to the local communities and health departments.”
Region 4 includes a large part of southwestern Illinois with Madison, St. Clair, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties.
The new restrictions announced by Pritzker include:
- No indoor service for dining in restaurants or drinking in bars.
- 11 p.m. closing time for outside bar service and dining. Reopening no earlier than 6 a.m.
- Seating at tables. No congregating, ordering or seating at the bar. Tables must be six feet apart.
- Reservations required – one party per table.
- No standing or congregating indoors while waiting for a table.
- Limit of 25 participants for groups or events, or 25 percent of room capacity.
- No party buses.
- Casinos and gaming halls must close by 11 p.m., limit themselves to 25 percent of capacity and follow other restrictions for bars and restaurants.
- Long-term care facilities may not allow indoor visitation or off-site outings.
A complete list of restrictions can be found online at dceocovid19resources.com/restore-illinois.
BUSINESS GROUPS REPLY
The Chambers of Commerce in Edwardsville, Belleville and O’Fallon quickly issued statements last week asking Pritzker to rescind the new restrictions.
“These policies will undoubtedly lead to shuttering of beloved local establishments,” the Edwardsville Chamber said.
The Belleville Chamber said a continued shutdown will lead to permanent closure for many restaurants and bars as winter makes outdoor dining less comfortable or impossible.
But Dr. Susan Bleasdale, a University of Illinois infectious disease specialist who appeared with Pritzker at the announcement, said people don’t wear masks when eating and drinking and tend to lose their inhibitions in bars – creating ideal conditions for the virus to spread.
“When you dine in a large setting with multiple people you don’t know, this presents further challenges for us and for the Department of Public Health because contact tracing for a group of people who you don’t know and who you were in contact with can create a delay in the notification of potential exposure,” she said.
“We may see somewhat of a seesaw back and forth of opening activities and closing activities,” she added, “but this is really important until we get an effective vaccine or treatment.”