COVID-19

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Freedom isn’t free. The bumper sticker slogan seen on military families’ vehicles has new meaning during the new “normal” in this year’s COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19’s serious impact is not something to play down.

 

Whether you call it by its official name, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19, our lives have suddenly changed from its impact. Many have read CDC and other medical COVID-19 recommendations, worn their masks, sheltered at home, and social distanced; others don’t see the point. In April 17.2% of Illinoisans became unemployed, compared to 3.5% in January 2020. This declined to 11.5% as businesses reopened later in the summer. Small businesses are strained. While the 115th took a big hit, our counties have not been among the worst in unemployment this summer.

Yet, parents are juggling working from home, or an essential job, having difficulty with childcare, and helping their children with online school. Others are worried of the rising rate of COVID-19 with hybrid and in-person return to school –but it’s the reality of smaller school districts and parents who cannot afford online technology. Community spread of the virus is increasing upon the return to school, including at SIU. The virus is laying up our friends, family, us, right here in Union, Jackson, Perry and Jefferson Counties, in the Illinois 115th district. We all know someone, maybe even a mother or father, whom we haven’t seen in person for the past half year because they are in lockdown at their nursing home, some sick with COVID-19. The nurse caring for COVID-19 patients has become sick, and she may be your sister. She hero’ed up for us. Or maybe it was your brother who works at the grocery store. So have the frontline essential workers at other essential businesses, some at great physical and financial cost to themselves. Some have died because they did all they could to keep us going.

 

Nothing quite like COVID-19 has occurred in our lifetime.

 

Do let me know your COVID-19 story. Contact me here.

 

COVID-19 has infected US Congressmen and mayors, has killed political leaders, movie stars and musicians, including Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and Illinois’ legendary musician John Prine. John Hopkins University’s global COVID-19 database show us that at Labor Day weekend, the entire world has had nearly 27 million confirmed cases, and over 881,000 deaths. The United States had over 6 million cases, and nearly 189,000 deaths at Labor Day weekend; this grew to 7 million cases and about 203,000 deaths by the end of September 2020. At Labor Day weekend, Illinois had nearly 250,000 cases and over 8,000 deaths. Union County: 446 cases, 24 deaths. Jackson County: 1061 cases, 22 deaths. Perry County: 308 cases, 12 deaths. Jefferson County: 487 cases, 36 deaths. You can watch the cases rise every time you revisit the global and Illinois databases.

 

Yes, many of us are weary of sheltering at home and worried about how to pay bills; yet, cases have been rising again with the return to school and some being less careful about not spreading the virus, whether during work, socializing or traveling. While the highest rates of COVID-19 cases occurred in the elderly this past spring when the virus initially hit Illinois, presently, the highest rate of COVID cases are among the 20-29 year old age group, and cases are becoming common in children too, per IDPH data. Minorities are experiencing higher rates. All our 115th District counties have had warning-level COVID-19 Risk numbers, where large gatherings are better avoided. The virus has touched all socioeconomic sectors, and COVID-19 has exposed the dysfunction in our community and government systems, such that low-income and minority sectors are disproportionately struggling, despite the state and federal assistance for testing, unemployment, rent and utility bill mitigation, support of certain businesses, and so forth. COVID-19 also highlights issues to resolve in our prison population and the safety of staff who work in this sector.



We have all probably heard of (and maybe benefitted from) the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act –the CARES Act-- enacted in March 2020. Many people still hope for further stimulus checks and additional unemployment benefits from the pending federal Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) and/or Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Acts, where more federal funds may eventually be administered by the states. But our federal government is distracted in bitter partisan fights as the election nears. Illinois created additional measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 via Governor Pritzker’s Executive Orders, Springfield legislation, Illinois government agency policy (e.g., Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Department of Natural Resources), and municipal ordinances (e.g., Carbondale, Carbondale mask ordinance, Murphysboro). I support these efforts, but I would like to hear how some of Springfield’s COVID-19 legislation is working for you, and what further action you would like to see. We should all take this situation very seriously.

 

A number of House bills have already been entered in Springfield that might help alleviate some of the hardships of COVID-19 for some people, some of which are now Acts, and the remainder of which I could help to co-sponsor, if you elect me. HB0064 reallocates state funds for expenses to implement numerous federal awards, including local health providers’ services (mitigating staff shortage, high COVID-19 positive rates, hazard pay), protective personal equipment, contact tracing and testing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including areas disproportionately affected by the pandemic, affordable housing grants, for emergency rental assistance, emergency mortgage assistance, reimbursement of local government’s pandemic response, qualifying small business grants related to pandemic closures and child care, and for administrative costs and discretionary grants to local election authorities from the CARES Act.

 

State funds were reallocated to community colleges and higher education for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund award. SIU got 2.8 million dollars recently to step up their testing and safety programs. A number of bills facilitate telemedicine, which has become increasingly used in socially distanced medical care during the pandemic, although it is useful in our medically under-served rural district at any time. Many clauses of the HB0064 appropriations bill were further solidified, becoming corresponding Acts, enabled by the Senate, including budget accountability reporting: Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency (Local CURE),  COVID-19 Emergency and Economic Recovery Renter and Homeowner Protection Act, Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency Borrowing Act (CURE Borrowing Act), amending the Illinois Works Jobs Program Act concerning police, fire fighters, first responders, and frontline workers COVID-19 workers’ compensation and death benefit in the line of duty, amending Public Act 101-0642 concerning conduct of 2020 elections to protect the safety, health, and rights of the people of Illinois (including vote-by-mail provisions), and also amending Public Act 101-0007 concerning appropriations. HB5834 provides state income tax breaks for parents for eligible education expenses related to their children’s online learning, including computers, printers, internet access, textbooks, tutors, and educational facilitators, although a tax break assumes income to purchase such services; however, many low-income parents may need a subsidy or provision better administered through the schools, which maybe could be an amendment instead. A discussion for our district.

 

So, the state has been active in mitigating the effects of COVID in a wide variety of ways. It is difficult to be certain (unless you ask them directly) but both of my opponents vehemently oppose government programs, in principle, and they have no sympathy with using the power of the government to help disadvantaged people, temporarily or permanently. Would they support the wise measures being taken by the state? I doubt it. Would they be active in finding ways to help those of you put under stress by the pandemic? I am virtually certain they would not. Sharing the burdens of the times are not part of their philosophies.

 

With work and school from home, we must find means to improve our broadband and internet infrastructure and service in rural southern Illinois, and make it accessible to all sectors of our rural low-income population. This long-needed work will benefit our economy for decades to come, but we need to do it now, not later.

 

Concerning support to employers of workers, I would like to see support of renewable energy and economically diverse small businesses in our region. This long-term project needs to be pushed to the front of our infrastructure plans, as a way to reduce operating expenses for small businesses.

 

The pandemic has drawn our attention to the inadequacies of our healthcare system. No one should die from COVID (or other health problems) for lack of access to the healthcare system. Therefore, I will also support measures to create universal healthcare for all (read further on single payer healthcare in my other blog on this topic).

 

We must thank and honor the many people in Illinois, and southern Illinoisans in the 115th District, who have made a contribution to keeping our health and socioeconomic situation somewhat more stable during the pandemic. Our healthcare providers and grocery store workers, and the people who process, package and deliver our food and medicine, are key essential workers, but so are those who keep our utilities and internet working, among others.

 

Illinois state and private universities, and research hospitals, are also doing COVID-19 clinical trial research, and this is supported by our state government. My opponents might call this a waste of tax dollars, but I don’t think agree. The research projects are evaluating COVID 19’s convalescent plasma and antibodies, various vaccines and other biologicals, hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, heparin, and many other drugs, along with psychological and behavioral change, neurological and cardiovascular change, and other long-term symptoms in adults, children, pregnant mothers and other population sectors. We will need this research as we settle into a world in which many people face the long-term effects of having had the virus.

 

At SIU with the help of grants, COVID-19 research includes biochemists and computer scientists tracking and mapping COVID-19 mutations for use in better vaccine development and localized interventions, as well as a mobile app mapping COVID-19 hotspots for people to avoid. SIU microbiologists produced 115,000 vials of Viral Transport Medium, a pH-buffered formulation of salts, protein and other chemicals that stabilizes genetic information of a COVID-19 sample until it can be tested at a lab. SIU’s Fermentation Science Institute registered with the FDA and now produces “Saluki Sanitizer” for the campus. SIU School of Medicine’s Neuroscience Institute is researching how COVID-19 may accelerate Alzheimer’s disease progression. We are doing our part in southern Illinois to fight COVID.

 

At the Innovation and Economic Development office in the SIU small business incubator, an economic survey of COVID-19’s impact on small business indicated that our 115th district counties’ businesses had somewhat different needs from each other. SIU has helped us learn what we need to do for the different situations in our various towns and villages. Help with protecting employees’ health and safety and losing customer traffic were common themes, yet Jackson, Jefferson, and Perry county businesses hoped for penalty-free extensions on expenses, while Perry county business owners want further cash flow management assistance. I support both and will fight for them. My opponents probably don’t know this is even happening.

 

Clearly, the state of Illinois must continue to act to shore up and stabilize what the federal government has not been able to mitigate during the COVID-19 pandemic. And we must better facilitate the federal assistance via our state agencies and local businesses. Send me to Springfield, and I will act on legislation to help facilitate healthcare and vaccinations, stabilize jobs, and keep you in your home with the utilities on during the COVID-19 pandemic. If our nation prepares to counter-act destabilizing forces abroad, it is also our responsibility to ensure the wellbeing and stability of southern Illinois people at home too amid COVID, as a prime part of our national security.


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  • Randy Auxier