In times of crisis such as a global pandemic, people look to their representatives and leaders to make smart decisions based on the data and information available at the time those decisions are made.
The challenges with COVID-19 are unprecedented. We hear and see them each day; new deaths, new cases and continuing unemployment and economic loss. My heart aches for all our residents and business owners during these difficult days who are being impacted in ways they never possibly could have imagined.
Like you, I want people’s lives to return to normal. I want the families and friends of those who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19 to find peace. I want those who are sick to recover. I want our businesses to open. I want to minimize the financial impact the pandemic is having on our small and large businesses, our overall economy and on the City of Rockford organization.
However, my first priority as mayor is keeping our residents safe. Nothing is more important. And to make those "wants" a reality, we must make decisions that keep people alive. I believe doing the right thing for our residents should never devolve into a political or partisan issue. We must focus on people first.
We’re working with many partners across Winnebago County in the Emergency Operations Center to address this health crisis and the cooperation has been heartening. At the end of March, we had 14 cases and zero deaths. As April concluded, our case count was at 426 and we’d lost 14 residents to the diseases.
I continue to marvel at the bravery of our health care workers and first responders who are on the front lines in this fight. And, I want to publicly thank Winnebago County Public Health Administrator Sandra Martell and her team. As we’ve seen in this crisis, when you do your job well, people will think you’re overreacting. When you don’t, people will lose their lives.
At the same time we’re responding to the public health challenges, we’re also tasked with rebuilding a community slammed by the economic fallout. At the city, we’re working diligently to provide the critical and essential services our residents expect and deserve.
Our Human Services Department has used tens of thousands of dollars to assist low-income residents with utility bills, rent and mortgage to prevent them from slipping into homelessness. We’re also partnering with nearly a dozen organizations to provide food and other necessities to families at high risk.
We’re working closely with local, state and federal partners to develop programs to help small businesses, including a $2 million Small Business Rapid Response Fund and a new $1.3 million Small Business Zero Interest Loan Program with funding from the Federal CARES Act. I’m excited by the impact these programs will have.
In recent days, City Council also approved the first projects in our $48 million Capital Improvement Program to improve our streets, roads and other infrastructure across the city.
We’ve demolished the former Magna Supermarket and adjacent strip center, both coming down as part of our continued strategy to eliminate blight and strengthen neighborhoods, while saving the taxpayers money. We continue the work to open our Family Peace Center in July, a critical project that will support domestic violence survivors and their children.
While these are small signs of progress, we know we have challenging times ahead of us. There will be no switch to flip to make our lives return to normal. In fact, we must break molds and forge new tools to create the new normal we want in our community. We will have to work harder and smarter to make Rockford stronger than it was before COVID-19. Working together, I’m confident we can do it.
Please stay healthy. And stay hopeful.
Thomas P. McNamara is mayor of Rockford