Editorial: No time to relax

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The last couple weeks, Illinoisans have been able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The masks have mostly come off. The number of infections and hospitalizations from Covid have dropped significantly. And for most of us life feels more like normal.

We’d all like to think this relatively low level of coronavirus activity will continue, but it is no time for policymakers at any level to take a breather. Their first job is to preserve public safety, and they need to prepare for the future. There has been no greater threat in the past two years than the pandemic, and we don’t know when infections may rise again, as they are now in some European countries.

There is a roadmap to consider. A group of public health experts issued a wide range of recommendations two weeks ago. The roadmap provides useful advice to policymakers on every level for how to live with this disease, which has consumed us since early 2020. (Today, in fact, is the two-year anniversary of Gov. JB Pritzker’s statewide state-at-home order.)

We hope every elected official will look at this report, which can be found at covidroadmap.org.

Some of the most important recommendations include: Boosting vaccinations; vastly improving indoor air quality; supporting development of more effective therapeutics; creating an effective data dashboard to guide the people and our leaders on public health measures; studying the long-term effects of Covid, and numerous others.

Many of the strategies go beyond the White House plan issued earlier this month.

We know many people would like to forget Covid, but it’s the responsibility of elected officials to absorb the lessons we’ve learned the past two years and prepare for what could come next. As we noted above, the threat is still there. We are seeing an upturn in coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom and Germany. It’s happened in China, too.

We hope there won’t be a repeat of last summer, when the Delta variant caught officials flat-footed and, coupled with Omicron, made for a deadly winter.

We still need greater vaccinations – and boosters. Just 67% of Illinoisans over 65 have received booster shots, too low for an age group that is vulnerable to Covid’s worst effects. (For all adults, that figure is 35%.)

We also have seen the need for data improvements. It was only a couple weeks ago that late-arriving data across the river in Scott County, gave the impression there was a large spike in cases when it was just late reporting of weeks-old information. It’s impossible to make good decisions based on old information.

Experts also say too little attention has been paid to indoor air quality, too, which can make a big difference to combat the spread of viruses.

All of this will cost money, and some of it is needed soon. Public health experts and the White House have warned about shortages of monoclonal antibodies, antivirals and testing capacity.

The administration asked for $22 billion. Congress whittled it to $15 billion before reaching a stalemate over how to pay for it. Republicans and some Democrats have argued money earmarked for state and local governments could be used to pay for the package.

We’ll let lawmakers and the president sort that out, but we hope it’s resolved soon. We will say it wouldn’t bother us if the federal government clawed back some funding from state and local governments that have used it to support tax cuts and to pay for things like prison construction (or, in Scott County’s case, a planned expansion of its Juvenile Detention Center). That money can best be spent elsewhere.

From what we’ve seen, a lot the money from the $350 billion appropriated for state and local governments is going to projects that aren’t as high a priority as preparing for a future Covid emergency. (We would note the public health experts who issued the roadmap said even the Biden administration’s request was not sufficient.)

We hope the worst of the pandemic over. But our elected leaders need to be on guard. That’s why the advice from these public health experts on what we need to do to live with Covid’s challenges going forward is so important.

The public may be able to relax a bit as Covid has loosened its grip for the moment, but that’s not what our elected leaders should do. At all levels, they must be hard at work preparing for the future. The Covid roadmap is a good place to start.

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via Dispatch Argus

March 20, 2022 at 08:17AM

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