Across Illinois, private citizens, healthcare professionals, business owners, and government officials are offering thoughts and input on how to address both the public health emergency and the economic crisis we’re currently facing. Many, including me, have advocated for a regional approach to managing the situation. I’d like to offer some plans and suggestions for how a regional approach could actually work. I think it’s important that we talk about some of the key points and details, instead of simply offering generic or overly broad ideas.
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the Illinois Department of Public Health to create and implement 102 different plans to cover each county in Illinois. Instead, we should look to the health experts and officials who are already working within those individual counties. Together with county health departments, local hospitals and clinics, first responders, municipal officials, and other key stakeholders, we should empower the creation of regional plans for dealing with COVID-19.
I propose allowing an individual county or group of counties to create, publicize, and implement their own “Regional Plan” for COVID-19 response. Each county already has a public health department, with experts who are working every day to protect public health and safety. A county or group of counties would be required to consider and detail their response plan for specific criteria, including:
- Average daily testing counts, and plan to ensure ongoing testing levels
- Confirmed case count and trend
- Local availability of hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators
- Local number of first responders, nurses, physicians, and healthcare personnel
- Surge plan, including mass testing and rapid response ability for suspected clusters
- Supply levels for testing swabs, personal protective equipment (PPE), and sanitizing products
- Number of community organizations and businesses who are participating in best practices to limit physical contact, ensure social distancing, and make accommodations to promote employee and customer safety
- Methods to communicate status and information to the public in a clear and timely way
A Regional Plan must include current COVID-19 data, as well as indicate specific benchmarks for how an improvement could allow for relaxed restrictions, while an increase of COVID-19 cases would require tighter restrictions.
A Regional Plan would give details on different phases of restrictions, with specific examples of what activity is allowed or prohibited during each phase.
A Regional Plan would require approval of relevant County Boards, County Health Departments, and hospitals, and submission to IDPH and to the public.
A successful Regional Plan would incorporate models, criteria, and phase recommendations from reports published by the federal and state government, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Governors Association, and other similar third-party validators.
Governor Pritzker’s Executive Orders would apply to counties or regions who have not formulated and approved their own response plans, but those areas who have taken the appropriate steps to create plans and win local stakeholder approval would be permitted to operate under their local plan guidelines. Because of the specific criteria which must be addressed, a county could not simply decree that no restrictions apply. Instead, we set a universal threshold and then empower local officials to survey their area and make appropriate guidelines based on their circumstances and capacities. Some areas may see additional restrictions, and some may see fewer restrictions.
Already, local officials are having discussions like these. I believe it is appropriate and responsible to empower those with “boots on the ground” in each county to choose to create and implement their own plans. This approach will promote public health and safety while allowing for a more responsive and tailored approach to meet the unique needs of each region.