By Tony Hooker
I am not an investigative journalist. Heck, compared to most of the writers I share these pages with, I’m no journalist at all. I tend to write about the blessings that surround us, because I feel that we’re inundated with enough negatives in our lives and that I should try to be some sort of counter.
But this time, I felt compelled to do some digging and frankly I could find very few answers. What I did find, however, was some compelling info about our state’s COVID response. The people and sources I’m about to quote are freely available via the interwebs, so please take the time to seek them out yourself, if anything in this rant that I’m about to write interests you.
This week, Governor Pritzker and his staff made two decrees that I found very hard to swallow. First, without providing any data other than a study showing that vigorous exercise to exhaustion could momentarily compromise the immune system to support it, the determination was made to move school basketball from medium risk, which would allow the season to move forward, to high risk which pretty much kills it at this time. The IHSA responded with a statement that their data showed no discernable uptick in cases to warrant such a move, and as such would continue the season as scheduled. “The Board remains considerate of rising COVID-19 cases in Illinois and understands the importance of adhering to safety guidelines for the good of all citizens. However, the Board has not presented any causal evidence that rising COVID-19 cases make basketball more dangerous to play by the IDPH or any other health organization nationally or internationally,” the statement read. The board then went on to further state that other health factors were at risk, and that they had what they consider to be a safe plan in place. “Mounting challenges, from increased mental health issues among our students to a shrinking calendar that limits our ability to move sport seasons this school year, were instrumental in this decision to move forward with basketball as scheduled…Students can be better protected in the high school setting, and the Board remains steadfast that playing under IHSA rules and SMAC mitigation is the safest way to conduct athletics at this juncture,” the board stated.
Predictably, the State Superintendent of Schools, Carmen Ayala, was quick to support the Governor on the issue. Ayala, who according to the State Comptroller’s web page makes $20,800 per month in a position to which she was appointed by the governor, said that “Defying the state’s public health guidance opens up schools to liability and other ramifications that may negatively impact school communities.”
The second decision that the Governor announced was to close all restaurants and bars to indoor service starting Monday, November 2. I have seen no data to support the assertion that bars and restaurants are meaningful contributors to the spread of the virus. In fact, in the only study I’ve been able to see, DuPage County reported that only about 1.5 percent of cases of COVID-19 could be traced to bars and restaurants. 74 percent of the cases were from care facilities. Still, bars and restaurants were targeted for closure. In a curious twist, bars and restaurants will be allowed to open their video gambling machines to patrons, but they won’t be allowed to sell them a cheeseburger or beer while they gamble. I would love to see the science behind that decision. Want to hear another fun fact? According to a very reliable source, the state takes 30 percent off the top of all money spent in the machines, regardless of whether the establishment made money. So, if Joe’s bar had $1000 in gambling earnings the previous week, the state would take $300. Then if Joe’s customers had been particularly lucky that week, and won $700 or more, the establishment would not be issued any money from their machines. In that scenario, Joe’s would have stayed open for seven days and not earned a dime under the restrictions that are currently being imposed. Not ideal for proprietors.
Finally, I want to stress that I’m in no way minimizing the pandemic or it’s potential to cause tremendous pain and suffering. What I am saying is that the preponderance of evidence shows that the young are highly unlikely to suffer debilitating long-term health issues from COVID-19. I’m also saying that there is no tangible data that supports the assertion that bars and restaurants contribute meaningfully to the spread of the disease. In fact, the IDPH web page itself has illustrated that from June, when bars and restaurants reopened, until October, when the decision was made to re-close, the rates of hospitalization remained flat, which was the original intent. So, if bars and restaurants weren’t the cause of the uptick in cases for four months, why are they being singled out as a cause now? Again, this is just editorializing on my part, and I welcome anyone to provide me with research that counters my rant. In the meantime, stay safe as we try to make sense of all of this.