From pandemic preparation to testing, consistent public health messaging, and vaccine rollout, this country has failed at dealing with COVID-19. It’s the unfortunate consequence of a once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic happening under the watch of an incompetant and narcissistic president. However, with a response that’s been left to the leadership of governors and local authorities, Champaign County has been consistently on top of things. Much of the credit for that belongs to Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD), under the leadership of Administrator Julie Pryde.
The messaging from CUPHD has been clear and consistent from the beginning. As we’ve learned more about how this virus is transmitted and what we can do to help slow the spread, Pryde has given weekly updates through Urbana Public Television since March. The cities of Champaign and Urbana cooperated, rather than worked against, what the health department was recommending. This consistency reinforced a culture of precaution, rather than one of carelessness and misinformation that is seen in so many other cities and states across the country, including other counties in Illinois.
As citizens, some are not consistent or compliant. It is clear that many in and around C-U act in their own best interest(s), not the community’s at-large. Many choose to direct the blame for their pandemic frustrations toward Governor Pritzker and Julie Pryde, rather than the existence of a virus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans.
However, most of the businesses in C-U are COVID compliant, and there is an expectation that patrons and customers who enter them will be too, even if they scoff at the notion. There will always be a few noses hanging out of masks, but it’s generally possible to do the daily business you need to do without encountering too many walking public health hazards — just stay away from any business that has a “Pritzker Sucks” sign.
While our free testing is run by the Illinois Department of Public Health, CUPHD stays on top of the operation and how well it’s running, advocating for our community when there are bumps in the road. With the exception of the tail end of 2020, when cases were steadily rising here and demand for testing was high, it’s been a relatively smooth process. It has not been perfect — we’re still waiting on the expansion of U of I saliva testing – but it seems the pace of the FDA emergency use authorization process is part of the issue there.
During the most recent surge in cases, when our region was sent into stricter mitigations due to an increase in positivity rates and hospitalizations, CUPHD had to take on the unfortunate task of penalizing restaurants that continued to serve indoors in spite of state guidelines. Pryde and her team have been vilified for doing their jobs, when health departments and city officials in surrounding counties chose to turn their heads. During that surge, and throughout the pandemic, their contact tracers work tirelessly, even on holidays, to try to contain the spread of the virus.
Now, as vaccines begin to roll out, the CUPHD team is adding another huge operation. Vaccine distribution across the country has been chaotic to say the least, another consequence of complete lack of federal guidance and support. There are seemingly daily reports of vaccines being wasted in other locales. Here, all available vaccines are going into arms; we just need more of them. CUPHD has created a vaccine dashboard on their website, so anyone can see the phase we are in and how many vaccines have been given. Vaccine clinics are announced and shared widely. Requiring appointments helps avoid situations like the one in Macon County this week, where elderly citizens were sleeping in their cars overnight to wait for a drive through vaccine clinic.
Now, after a few months of mitigations, Champaign County is once again in Phase 4. Indoor dining has resumed, gyms are open, sports are happening. However, it’s important to note that the reason we are in this phase is because there is room at the hospital, not because it’s all of a sudden safer to do all of these things. With more places open, and more virulent strains of COVID circulating, it’s more important than ever to maintain diligence. Just because you can do more things doesn’t mean you should do them. The best thing we can do to support the work of CUPHD is listen to what they are saying: Wear your mask, keep your distance, and please get your vaccine when it’s your turn.
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.