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They were not meeting to announce a grand opening. They were not smiling or holding shovels, waiting to break ground for a new, exciting business coming to town.
Local leaders met with Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday to discuss the “wrong direction” that La Salle County is heading with its COVID-19 numbers.
Pritzker was in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon speaking at the La Salle County Emergency Management Agency.
“If this region has four more days of people getting sicker and needing a hospital bed, that means bars will close again, a possible reduction of service at restaurants and smaller capacity limits at other activities,” Pritzker said in his opening remarks.
La Salle County was one of four counties the Illinois Department of Public Health announced last week as being at warning levels for the spread of COVID-19. Per the IDPH website, “a county enters a warning level when [there are] two or more COVID-19 risk indicators that measure the amount of COVID-19 increase.”
The others were Adams, Randolph and Peoria, with the governor appearing in Peoria with a similar message Thursday before speaking in Ottawa.
Pritzker went on to encourage residents to cooperate with the La Salle County Health Department.
“If the La Salle County Health Department calls you, please answer your phone. They’re likely calling to do contact tracing, which will help us slow or even stop the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“Doing what needs to be done to keep people safe doesn’t always win you popularity contests, but it doesn’t change the fact it’s still the right thing to do,” IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said.
She has talked to fellow parents who say they felt intimidated to wear a mask because no one else was wearing one, but she said we have to overcome peer pressure, even when others may not be wearing masks.
If adults can’t set the example, it’s hard for us to expect that of children, she said.
She said keeping distance from people helps reduce risk of exposure, and wearing a face covering helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Private gatherings in homes and basements are a huge driver of new cases we’re seeing, she said. People who get sick can move on to public spaces and spread the virus, continuing a cycle.
LCHD administrator Julie Kerestes urged residents of the county – especially young ones – to up their efforts in slowing the spread of the virus.
“The health and safety of La Salle County residents is our highest concern,” she said. “As of today, La Salle County has identified 467 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 18 deaths. Included in that total are 26 new cases today. We are fortunate to be able to highlight four new recoveries for a total of 246 recovered cases.
“La Salle County has seen an uptick in the number of cases since moving into Phase 4, and especially since early July. Cases in the county have more than doubled since that time. La Salle County is experiencing community spread of the virus. Community spread of the virus means some people are testing positive and are not able to pinpoint when or where they are becoming infected, which is happening all over the county, not one particular area or town,” she said.
“In addition, our highest number of cases continue to be those who are 29 years and younger.”
The COVID-19 numbers are going in the wrong direction, La Salle County Board Chairman Jim Olson said. He said he was “urging” all La Salle County residents to follow procedures set in place by the IDPH and LCDH.
“It’s clear to see that the states that ignored the recommendations from the scientists and opened up early are paying the price now,” Ottawa Mayor Dan Aussem said, adding he doesn’t want to see the same happen here.
He admitted it is uncomfortable to wear the mask, but “at the end of the day, it’s a pretty simple task to do.” He said if you don’t feel comfortable wearing a mask, order curbside or delivery or stay home.
“It’s not too much” to help your community, he said.
“If we go backwards, there’s going to be even more pain and misery, not to mention the ultimate, death,” said state Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa. He encouraged everyone to follow IDPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and governor’s recommendations.
• J.T. Pedelty contributed to this report.