A courtesy for those around you


Believe it or not, a cap and gown won’t protect you from the Coronavirus.

I was thinking about that Saturday as I drove past a park not far from where I live and saw the 2020 Tri-City High School class scrunched up in a gazebo posing for pictures in a city park. No one was wearing masks and they most certainly weren’t observing the 6-foot social distancing requirements.

And, yes, I get it. It’s not fair that this year’s graduates aren’t experiencing the usual pomp and circumstance to mark this milestone in their lives. But this pandemic we are experiencing isn’t fair. It preys on the most vulnerable in our society. 

It’s easy to be dismissive of this crisis as being a “Chicago problem” and not a concern for folks elsewhere. But just down the road from where these kids were posing, 20 people died in one nursing home of this horrible disease.

I began wearing a mask before Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an edict requiring them.  I don’t wear it to comply with the government; I wear it as an act of kindness toward others. 

Are they 100 percent effective? No. But they are a deterrent. Wearing a mask during an epidemic is much like at other times covering your nose before you sneeze. It’s not only good hygiene, but it’s a courtesy to those around you. 

Sadly, I’ve seen the mask rule ignored. 

I dropped by an auto parts store in Springfield on Wednesday for some power steering fluid. The place was packed with about 20 customers. Only myself and one other were wearing a mask. Even the employees working the cash register left them dangling around their necks. The story was much the same at a farm-supply store, where I went to pick up some pet food.

When I dropped by a nursery on Saturday, to buy a Mother’s Day gift, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.  None of the cashiers and fewer than one-fifth of the customers wore masks. And the place was packed.

They are not only showing contempt for Pritzker’s order but also for the welfare of others.

Part of the problem has been Pritzker’s approach.

This past week, he unveiled a five-phase plan for bringing Illinois back to “normal.” While well intentioned, it is unwieldy and ultimately as ineffective as a Soviet five-year plan.

This heavy-handed, big government “solution” won’t work for the simple reason that a law only is effective if it is obeyed. Right now, many people are ignoring the executive orders because they view it as government overreach. Noncompliance, for them, is an act of civil disobedience.

Governor, you want folks working with you – not against you. To achieve this, you need to stop ordering and start listening.

For example, under the governor’s plan, most in-person worship services are banned indefinitely. 

The governor’s plan says groups of 50 or more won’t be allowed to meet until there is either a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19. 

There is no guarantee of a vaccine. More than 30 years ago, when I was a medical reporter, I wrote about massive government funding and Herculean scientific efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine. That vaccine doesn’t exist yet.

And a COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t exist either. Like the AIDS vaccine, it may not come to fruition. 

For the governor to pin reopening churches, mosques and synagogues to future medical advances isn’t a plan, it’s a hope. A more effective idea might be to work with religious leaders on ways to minimize the risk of infection.

Things like wearing masks during church services, creating social distancing barriers between families and eliminating a handshakes and hugs would go a long way toward alleviating possible routes of infection.   

The governor ought to be working with religious leaders to develop solutions that will allow them to meet, rather than issuing orders that will ultimately result in churches defying the governor and meeting anyway.

Remember, a law is only effective if it is obeyed. 

The nature of democracy is compromise and consensus. Our lawmakers represent the different needs and concerns of various areas of the state. And yet, the governor has acted unilaterally for months without any formal input from legislators.

He has the authority to call the legislature back into session. But he has chosen not to.

And that does not serve the state well. 

“We have a system of checks and balances,” House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said. “We need the legislature to meet in Springfield. We can do this safely. … The governor has not done a good job of balancing the state’s health needs with its economic needs.”

The governor’s office did not return calls seeking comment. 

In the working-class community where I live, many people are experiencing unemployment for the first time. Once proud barbers, waitresses, bartenders, cashiers and others have been reduced to scrounging at a food pantry to just feed their families. 

People want to return to work in a safe way. Their employers are willing to develop safety plans. But instead of collaboration, we receive one-size fits all edicts from Pritzker. 

That’s not how our system of government is supposed to work.

It’s time for lawmakers to return to Springfield and provide input. And it’s time for the governor to stop telling and begin listening.

After all, a law is only effective if it is obeyed.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. [email protected]

 

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