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McLean County Board wants fairgrounds testing site to stay open, delays decision to reopen businesses

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BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) - The McLean County Board is appealing to top Illinois and U.S. health officials to keep open the COVID-19 testing site at the west Bloomington fairgrounds, even as board members decide to wait for a week to sign off on a plan to reopen area businesses.

The board Tuesday night agreed to send a letter to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike and U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to reconsider Friday's scheduled closure of the coronavirus testing facility.

In the letter, Board Chairman John McIntyre acknowledged the site was well under its daily capacity of administering 250 tests, but that was because only first responders, health care workers, and people meeting certain health criteria could be tested.

However, officials eased some of those restrictions on April 29.

"Since that time, as word has spread about the less restrictive nature of testing criteria, use of the site dramatically increased," the letter said.

The testing site saw 726 patients the week of March 28 to a weekly high of 852 the week of May 9, the letter went on to say.

"As our state and nation eventually begin the process of reopening in a safe, metric-driven manner, it will be critical to our local population and those interacting with our communities through our transportation network that we have a local and reliable testing site," the letter also said.

Meantime, the McLean County Board is waiting for input from the county's health board before deciding whether to adopt the so-called Restore Heart of Illinois (HOI) plan to open area businesses, which proposes to reopen businesses at a faster pace than recommendations from Gov. JB Pritzker.

The McLean County Board of Health will debate the issue Thursday at 5:30 p.m., and the full county board will meet again in special session a week later to presumably take final action, on May 28 at 5:30 p.m.

"I appreciate that the Board of Health is going to take the time to review this because it is their authority ultimately, and their opinion that really dictate how we move this forward," said county board member Carlo Robustelli.

"The state plan is moving way too slow," said board member George Wendt. He's worried business closures lead to serious mental health issues, alcohol abuse, and suicides.

"The faster we open up these businesses, we can avoid possibly some of the other ramifications and unintended consequences of having businesses shut down," Wendt said.

Board Vice Chair Jim Soeldner, from the small village of Ellsworth, is asking for final board action at the special meeting.

"The rural part of the county, the small businesses, the small villages, are hurting," Soeldner said.

Board member George Gordon wants more options than just immediately implementing the HOI plan or rejecting it.

"I would like a little more flexibility because we are all facing the tremendously tough choices involved in potentially lives versus livelihoods.

Howard Packowitz

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