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By just about every measure, Champaign County is extraordinary in testing and limiting the number of cases and deaths from the coronavirus.

As we write the final chapter of this mostly dark and dismal year, it is worth noting and celebrating that a few East Central Illinois counties have done an impressive job of limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

Champaign, Piatt, DeWitt and McLean counties all have among the lowest confirmed COVID-19 rates in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Champaign County’s is 6.44 percent, among the lowest for the largest Illinois counties. Piatt County’s rate is 6.23 percent, McLean’s 6.53 and DeWitt’s is 5.57 percent. The statewide rate is 7.45.

Death rates are similarly low with Champaign’s at 39.5 per 100,000 population, Piatt’s at 42.7 and McLean’s at 51.5. Compare that with nearby Effingham County’s rate of 146 deaths per 100,000 population or Fayette County’s 214. Statewide the death rate is 138 per 100,000.

Age, education and other socioeconomic factors are part of the explanation for the lower numbers in East Central Illinois. But so is the community’s leadership, starting with health care professionals and including mayors, county prosecutors and business owners.

In Champaign County, there has been a near-uniform appeal for people to wear face coverings, keep a social distance, avoid outside travel and be considerate of others. That hasn’t been the message in other counties where health and safety concerns were undercut in favor of misguided notions of liberty.

Illinois overall is doing a better, more united job of fighting COVID-19, with a nearly 40 percent reduction in cases in the last two weeks and a 15 percent cut in hospitalizations, a critical measure for overworked health care workers. Nationally, the numbers aren’t so cheery. Cases are down 13 percent, but hospitalizations are up 10 percent, primarily in California.

Communities that are able to limit the damage from the coronavirus should be among the first to emerge safely from restrictions and later, when vaccinations are more widespread and effective, should return to something approaching normal. That’s something to aspire to in 2021.

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