RACINE — This week, the City Council extended the COVID-19 ordinance known as Safer Racine through June, a six-month extension instead of a three-month extension as the Council had enacted previously.
Rules included in the current iteration of Safer Racine include:
- Requiring all schools in the city to close their buildings through Jan. 15.
- Bars, restaurants, gyms, yoga studios and other “indoor recreational facilities” must limit capacity to 25% “as long as social distancing can be maintained.”
- Retail stores, tattoo parlors, salons and personal care facilities must limit capacity to 50% “as long as social distancing can be maintained.”
- Requiring the wearing of face coverings inside buildings that are not one’s own home.
- Alderman John Tate II, president of the City Council, shed light on the reasoning for such a long extension during an interview Friday.
Kept pushing it back
The initial ordinances covering the city’s pandemic response were for three months. At the end of the three months, they were extended for another three months. And then another three months.
Tate explained the city was perhaps optimistic in its original assessment of how long the city, state, and nation would be dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It was, after all, their first pandemic.
Nearly nine months later, the city is in a worse position, in terms of the number of positive cases and increasing number of deaths, than it was at the beginning.
The experience informed the decision-making process, Tate said.
While it is hard to estimate where the city might be in its COVID response in early 2021, it is feasible the city will still be experiencing the pandemic in June. If the pandemic is brought under control before that, the city has the option to terminate the ordinance at that time, Tate said.
Different types of freedom
Tate said the feedback for the extension of Safer Racine to June has been positive. He said what the city is really doing is acting on the recommendations of public health agencies.
“Everyone is coming to the same conclusion nine months into this,” Tate said. “There is no quick way out.”
The only way out, he added, was to get the vaccine to as many people as possible, in the quickest way possible.
Still, there are some in the community who are rankled by the COVID response ordinances. There are some who challenged the mask ordinance and ignored health experts by gathering in large groups for holidays. In a free country, some have argued, the individual should decide for themselves whether to mask up or not.
Tate spoke to the issue of freedom of choice, saying that when he checks in with his elderly constituents, they also talk about freedom: “They want to be free to go to the grocery store and not get exposed to this.”
He added the Council is trying to ensure that everyone has the freedom to live their lives without having to hide away because a segment of the population is not acting responsibly. Of those people, Tate said, “their concept of freedom is divorced from responsibility ... freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.”
He encouraged everyone to wear their masks, wash their hands, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds.