Douglas County officials respond to Governor’s order

By Kendra Hennis 
Douglas County Sheriff Joshua Blackwelll spoke out against Governor J.B. Pritzker’s new stay-at-home order in a letter to state legislatures Senator Rose and Representative Halbrook. Blackwell’s biggest problem with the new order is the requirement of face masks by all Illinois residents over the age of two in public places where 6ft distance cannot be maintained. He stated that he disagrees with the order set to go into effect on May 1, 2020, saying to the legislators, “I just wanted to express to you my displeasure with the Governor’s latest extension and modification of the stay-at-home order. I will not be enforcing any of it unless there is a court order issued nor will I be requiring my employees to wear facemasks unless they are explicitly dealing with a person that has COVID. Requiring me to have my employees wear masks at all times goes against my statutory authority to control the internal operations of my office.” 

Blackwell does not doubt the severity of the virus, but he not think that the residents of Douglas County are as affected by COVID-19 saying, “It’s a national pandemic but if you look at Douglas County we have twelve residents with COVID which is .0006% of our population. But if you’ve got Chicago in dire need of that stuff, why not give it to them? Why have a blanket policy that restricts all of our freedoms?” Blackwell said, “enough is enough, downstate Illinois doesn’t have the same issues as Chicago.” Blackwell hopes that by bringing attention to this that the “Governor will readdress the disaster declaration and modify it so that it properly represents the counties that are in true need of assistance.” He says that “When all 102 counties are declared disaster counties yet not all counties have positive cases, you are taking away resources and money from places that really need the help.” 

Blackwell’s opposition to the order came to light at Governor Pritzker’s daily COVID-19 briefing when he was asked about the Sheriff’s criticism Pritzker responded “I feel badly for the people of that county that they have someone who doesn’t recognize that this is a worldwide and very violent virus that is …. not going away. You [the residents of Douglas County] know what you need to do to keep yourself safe… I think I would just encourage the people of that county to protect themselves.” 

There has been some opposition to the claims made by Sheriff Blackwell. 

On April 27, the Douglas County Health Department confirmed it’s fourteenth COVID-19 case. As of April 27, 2020, the Douglas County Health department has 184 tested, 14 positive, 168 negative, and 2 pending tests for COVID-19. They said that everyone should consider themselves at risk for exposure to coronavirus and should stay home whenever possible. While at home everyone should self-monitor and check yourself for fever and remain alert for cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Testing is not indicated for persons who are mildly ill or are not showing signs of illness. Douglas County has several individuals throughout the county whose symptoms warranted isolation and self-monitoring at home and did not meet criteria for testing. These individuals are receiving calls twice daily to confirm their symptoms remain mild. Should their symptoms worsen, additional action is taken, including testing. 

In the release, Public Health Administrator for the Douglas County Health Department Amanda Minor stated, “it remains imperative to abstain from gathering with anyone outside of your own household. When you leave home, wear a face covering in public whenever 6ft distancing may be difficult. A mask significantly reduces the amount of the virus that can become airborne when talking, laughing, coughing, or sneezing. There are many without symptoms who are carrying this virus. Covering your nose and mouth in public places reduces the likelihood of spreading the virus to others. For those with compromised immunity, this virus is potentially deadly. Please protect yourself and others by wearing a face covering and staying home if you have any signs of illness.”

Summer Phillips from the Douglas County Health Department stated that information about COVID-19 could be found on the Douglas County Health Department’s Facebook page saying “the Douglas County Health Department news feeds provide a wealth of online education on COVID-19 (hundreds of posts) and the science we share isn’t debatable. It can, however, be ignored by anyone who chooses to. Those who want to know, will follow and those who don’t will not- it’s that simple.” She then went on to say that “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” 

Tuscola Mayor Dan Kleiss said “I would like to say to fellow Tuscolians that I realize as this current situation continues, it gets harder and harder to stay away from what we would normally be doing this time of year.  I would still just like to encourage all to continue to practice good hygiene and social distancing.”

Tuscola Chief of Police Criag Hastings advised that the Tuscola Police Department will follow the direction of Mayor Kleiss.

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