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McLean County Board holds off backing HOI reopening plan

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BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) - The McLean County Board decided to table a proposal Thursday night to immediately implement terms of the so-called Heart of Illinois sub-regional proposal, in which 11 counties would reopen businesses at a faster pace than Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.

None of the other counties, including Peoria County, have adopted the HOI plan. Earlier this week, McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight sent out a memo saying her agency might not be able to handle a potential spike in COVID-19 cases if communities initiate a faster easing of pandemic restrictions.

The board's vote to table the HOI plan was 12-8. All who voted no were Republicans...Chuck Erickson, George Wendt, Gerald Thompson, Jim Soeldner, Catherine Metsker, William Friedrich, Randall Martin, and Jacob Beard.

Republican Susan Schafer made the motion to table the measure.

"I'm trying to find middle ground here between everybody as to how to move forward," said Schafer.

Given the health department's position, Schafer said it's impossible to implement the HOI plan right away.

"They flat out said they can't do that immediately. I don't know what the solution is," Schafer added.

Wendt called for McLean County to take a leading role in adopting the HOI plan, suggesting other counties would follow suit. Erickson said the more aggressive plan is needed because of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent to board members just hours before their special meeting, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said the HOI plan was originally proposed to "expedite the area's reopening." Many elements of the plan will occur under Phase 3 of Gov. Pritzker's plan, which takes effect Friday.

"Mayor (Jim) Ardis and I always intended this plan to be consistent with Gov. Pritzker's executive order and use its metrics for implementation," Renner said.

Democratic board member Sharon Chung feared more people might get sick and die because of confusion between the two plans.

Also voting with the majority was Democrat Elizabeth Johnston, who worried that an increase of coronavirus cases might be the death knell for businesses if they are forced to close again.

Among members' other concerns was whether the county government would face lawsuits for their decision.

There's no date set in which the board might reconsider the proposal.

Howard Packowitz

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