Thumbs up to Southern Illinois University Carbondale, which announced this week that the number of first-time students increased by about 31%. The total enrollment on campus dropped 2.8% from fall 2019, and that’s a major win compared to where numbers have been in the past — the university’s enrollment has dropped between about 8% and 12% in each of the past four years. While it’s not time to declare that SIUC is back to where it once was, it’s definitely something to celebrate. SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin Lane said that the fall enrollment figures represent a “significant change in the right direction.” Lane, who began at SIU in July, said the boost in first-time student enrollment helps lay a solid foundation on which to build for 2021 and beyond. “As we attract and retain larger classes, we should see positive percentages in enrollment growth very soon," he said. Here’s hoping that number continues in the right direction, because SIU means so much to Southern Illinois and its economy and culture.
Thumbs down to the financial situations playing out in a lot of Illinois communities — in our region and throughout the state. Officials from communities around the region say no real relief is coming their way, despite the money Congress allocated to help state and local governments in the CARES Act. Of the roughly $3.5 billion sent to Illinois, the General Assembly carved out $200 million specifically for small cities and counties. Local government officials say restrictive rules on how the money can be spent make most of the relief funds inaccessible. “It’s been a source of frustration for cities around the state,” said Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other shutdown orders, cities and counties across our region are facing financial holes caused by plummeting sales tax and other lost revenue. Now is not the time to make the red tape thicker for communities to get at that funding. Our towns need it now more than ever.
Thumbs up to the Du Quoin Garden Club for being named the 2019 Garden Club of the Year for the small membership division of Garden Clubs of Illinois. The award is based on awards the club earns throughout the year. For the 2019 club year, the club won awards for the garden at the Blue Star Memorial, civic concern, holiday decorations, butterfly garden, club horticulture and garden therapy, to name a few. “We were pretty excited. The girls are out there working all the time,” said Jean Bullock, president of the club.
Thumbs down to the continued devastation that COVID-19 has had. Southern Illinois still has six counties on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s warning list: Johnson, Perry, Randolph, Union, Williamson and White counties. Southern Illinois Healthcare is seeing an increase in patients hospitalized with complications. And the positive cases announced each day seem to rise rapidly. All of these factors tell us a few things. One, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And, we still have a ways to go when it comes to practicing safe social distancing standards. “I would say that it’s concerning the numbers that we’re seeing in the area, especially for the time of year that we’re in. And so, people need to continue to follow those simple guidelines that are out there, which is to wear a mask when you’re out and about, good hand hygiene and hand washing, to not gather in large groups,” Dr. Marci Moore-Connelley, SIH chief medical officer, said in a story last week. So, please, we’re begging you: Wear a mask. Stay home when you can. Practice social distancing. We all have to contribute in order to get past this. If not, it’s going to be around for a lot longer.