At the Normal Town Council’s Monday meeting, Mayor Chris Koos and others responded to a return to stricter crowd limits because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, with Koos saying despite mixed feelings about the metrics used to include Normal, he won't encourage anyone to violate the restrictions.
Starting Wednesday, restaurants in Illinois' Region 2 -- including McLean County -- are prohibited from offering indoor dining. Also, the current 50-person limit for gatherings will be reduced to 25.
Council member Stan Nord asked if Normal would be enforcing the stricter rules. He noted that other Illinois community leaders plan to take a stand, by not enforcing Gov. JB Pritzker's recently announced restrictions.
Koos said Normal's approach will be to forward complaints about violations to the McLean County Health Department.
Nord said he wondered whether Normal could even enforce the new restrictions, given that the orders were authorized without a legislative vote.
“As a leader, as the mayor, and a seasoned business owner, I will not encourage anyone to violate state or federal regulations,” said Koos.
Instead, he'll work with state and federal leaders to implement changes allowing local businesses to remain open, he said. Koos said he's made this decision based on input from the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, as well as other community organizations.
“We understand the positivity rates were the only factor used by the state when deciding to shut down indoor dining,” said Koos. Even though the rate in McLean County is among the lowest in Illinois, the Twin Cities are part of the 20-county Region 2, where the rates, as a whole, are higher.
Koos said he doesn’t agree with that solitary measurement.
So, he'll work with other mayors in the Illinois Municipal League to broaden the metrics used for evaluating COVID shutdowns. The mayor also is working with lawmakers to pass more stimulus packages to assist local businesses.
In the meantime, Koos said he'll encourage Normal residents to limit the size of private gatherings. Such events are a leading cause of exposure to the coronavirus, according to health experts. But most crucial, for local business survival, he said, is conscious efforts by everyone to put money into the local economy.
“During these shutdowns, order delivery or pick-up curbside,” he said. “Dine local. Spend local.”
Nord said COVID testing data isn’t a clear picture. He said the positive COVID cases are misleading because the pool being tested in McLean County is not representative of the whole community: Healthy people are not seeking tests, he said, claiming, “The numbers are being skewed."
Council member Karyn Smith disagreed. She said while she understands the new COVID restrictions are not welcome news, she believes they're in the community’s best interest. With more than 230,000 U.S. deaths, and more than 9 million cases in the country, no one can afford to succumb to COVID fatigue, she said.
“Those who argue that we must either fight the virus or support our business, to me, are creating a false equivalency,” she said. The community can do both, but for businesses to succeed, the virus needs to be contained first, she said, so people feel safe patronizing those businesses.
“This is not a Republican virus, or a Democrat virus, or a Libertarian virus, or a Green Party virus," she said. Rather, it's a highly contagious airborne infection that spreads easily, she said.
Koos said he’s talked to many Normal residents, and while some want tighter controls, others want fewer restrictions. No option will satisfy everyone, he said.
“The current restrictions will make it difficult for some (businesses) to survive,” said Koos. "But since the start of the pandemic, Normal leaders’ challenge has been balancing the health of the community with economic realities.
“The proper response to this is not political grandstanding, but a focus on finding solutions that help our businesses remain viable,” said Koos.
Recycling program extension
Also Monday, the council voted 6-1, to allow a two-month extension for a drop-box recycling program. City Manager Pam Reece said Normal expects in January to present a proposal where the town would partner with Bloomington and McLean County on the program.
Nord voted “no,” saying he doesn’t want the city spending money on the program during this time of economic hardship. He also opposed the spending when the prior six-month extension was approved.
As part of Monday’s vote, the council adjusted the budget to allow paying roughly $16,500 to Normal-based Midwest Fiber Recycling. Since 2015, the company has handled the recycled items placed in its containers. In 2018, it halved it's local sites. The four remaining are in parking lots of Chiddix Junior High School, University Center, the Cottage Avenue Jewel-Osco, and the Walmart on Greenbriar Drive.
The latest agreement with Midwest Fiber, which expired Oct. 31, was made for just six months because town officials expected the intergovernmental agreement to be ready by this week. However, Reece said the three governments haven’t found time to meet about the matter.
Normal proposed the intergovernmental agreement in April, after an Ecology Action Center survey determined Bloomington and other McLean County residents outside of Normal were using the drop boxes at rates comparable to Normal residents.
Smith asked Reece if she was confident an intergovernmental plan could be ready in two months. Reece said she was, but if it isn’t, the Normal council will revisit the future of the program.
In other business, the council:
- Vacated easements on three lots in the Heather Ridge subdivision.
- Approved, conditionally, a final plat of the Cyphers subdivision.
- Heard that Normal’s leaf pick-up crews started Monday conducting the annual vacuum route. Leaf pick-up does not coincide with trash or recycling days, he said. The town’s website features an interactive map, indicating where the vacuum crew is active. They’ll make rounds about four times this season.
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