In the fast-moving events since early March, we have seen organizations and businesses, hospital workers and first responders, children and families rise to meet the challenges and burdens thrust upon the community by COVID-19. We have seen residents and organizations accepting their parts in fighting this pandemic and supporting each other, the vulnerable, the overworked, the tired and the tireless.
This generosity of spirit permeates the community of Evanston. It was in part based on an unspoken agreement that the City, the local and statewide decision-makers and the residents were all on the same side. People here and elsewhere moved as quickly as possible into pandemic mode.
After nearly eight weeks, people across the country are on edge, no less so in Evanston. The buffer of good will between decisions that affect public health and those that affect private economics is wearing thin.
For the City and its residents, this is a time to be cautious rather than rash.
A measure adopted by City Council on April 29 seem to break the tenuous agreement between the rule-makers and the rule-followers. An amendment to the public health ordinance imposes a minimum fine of $150 for anyone who “violates the public health measures put in place to prevent the spread of diseases in our City.”
Three things about this action deserve comment. The proposed amendment submitted to City Council members contained not one iota of evidence that residents are not adhering to the orders in place. Moreover, aldermen voted to suspend the Council rules in order to speed the passage of the amendment, bypassing the required two weeks between introduction and consideration of a proposed City ordinance.
Does anyone in City government really believe that Evanston residents are having “infection parties” or that they are bunching up in lines or gathering heedlessly for any reason? Given the extraordinary behavior of Evanstonians during this pandemic, we feel the passage of this ordinance delivered an insult rather than a precaution.
It may be that in the future a situation will arise that an ordinance such as this one could address. But that is not the case now.
People are doing their best here; many are already strained economically. The threat of a $150 fine when too many residents are financially strapped, coupled with the implication that residents are not taking this pandemic seriously is a disrespectful comment on this community.
Finally, Health and Human Services Department Director Ike Ogbo said at Council that his department has no intention of enforcing the ordinance as far as the fine goes.
We would ask that this ordinance be repealed and the matter be considered again when things are not so chaotic. That the City is opening the downtown farmers market on schedule and looking at how to hold summer concerts indicates the belief in a less-intense period when emergency measures will not be in place.
There are dire predictions about a re-emergence of COVID-19, possibly in conjunction with the regular flu season. We may have to go back to stringent measures. The expected calm of the next few weeks is the time to debate fines and enforcements during pandemics.
Any alderman who voted in favor of a matter can ask for a reconsideration of that matter at the following City Council meeting. We hope and trust this will happen at the May 11 meeting.