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Government, Politics & Issues

IDPH Not Considering St. Clair County Request For Lighter COVID-19 Restrictions

The Illinois Department of Public Health dismissed hopes of officials in St. Clair County on Tuesday who say the downward trend in COVID-19 cases warrants an exemption from the stricter safety mitigation placed on Region 4.

On Monday, St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern said the county should stand alone given its improving COVID-19 positivity rate and case numbers. He expressed hope that IDPH would consider excluding the county from Metro East restrictions.

On Tuesday, IDHP dismissed a St. Clair County exemption as a possibility.

“This appears to be a rumor and is not being considered,” Public Information Officer Melaney Arnold said in an email.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh, added that while the governor applauds the county’s efforts, there’s still work to be done.

“The Governor applauds the efforts undertaken in St. Clair County and Randolph County to lower their countywide positivity rate,” Abudayyeh said in an email. “Thanks to those counties, Region 4’s positivity rate has started to trend in the right direction and the Governor would urge the other counties in the region to follow their lead. If the region continues on this trajectory, lowering the positivity rate in the region to 6.5 percent, the state will lift the mitigation.“

Currently, the entirety of Region 4 is in the first tier of restrictions per Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois plan. Current restrictions limit indoor service at bars and restaurants as well as the size of social gatherings. To have those restrictions lifted, the Metro East as a seven-county region needs to achieve three consecutive days with a seven-day rolling positivity rate average of 6.5% or less.

While the Metro East has seen a gradual fall in its positivity rate since early September, its rate rose for the first time in weeks, from 6.9% Monday to 7.1% Tuesday.

In addition to St. Clair, Region 4 encompasses Randolph, Madison, Clinton, Bond, Washington and Monroe counties.

Illinois provides the rate for each region at dph.illinois.gov/regionmetrics. Information on the website is delayed by three days, so Friday's was the latest data available.

Kern expressed frustration with IDPH and the other counties in Region 4 during the county’s daily COVID-19 update Monday.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern answers questions during a March 2020 press conference about COVID-19.
Derik Holtmann
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern answers questions during a March press conference about COVID-19.

He said an exception needed for St. Clair County because its statistics have consistently fallen in recent weeks, while other counties in the region have ignored the rules set by the state.

“I think the IDPH needs to take a look at this region,” Kern said. “We’re large enough, with 270,000 people, they can a look at those numbers and really drill into them and look at the accurate numbers. We are team players. We understand the regional concept that we’re all stronger together.”

Some businesses have openly dismissed the state’s guidance, even after receiving written citations and being fined for doing so. Kern said counties and individuals not following the rules are holding the region back from reopening its economy.

“When other parts of the region are not complying with the governor’s asks then I think there needs to be an exception that’s made for a county that is complying and whose numbers are reaching those areas to allow businesses to at least go back to where they were a month ago,” Kern said Monday.

Where the Region 4 counties stand

As of Friday, St. Clair County’s 6% rolling positivity rate was second best in Region 4, behind only Randolph County’s 2%. St. Clair County tested 5,256 people, however, while Randolph tested just 809 over the same seven-day period.

Elsewhere in the region, the state reported Madison County had a 7.6% rolling average, Monroe County had an 8.5% average, Bond County had an 8.9% average, Washington had an 11.5% average, and Clinton had a 12.9% average.

Testing in the counties varied greatly, with some counties testing in the thousands and others testing in the low triple digits. Regionally, over the seven days leading up to Sept. 25, a total of 13,149 tests were performed, 937 of which were positive.

BND reporter Kelsey Landis contributed to this story.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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