KEWANEE — Representatives from several Henry County bars and restaurants spoke Tuesday afternoon during a special meeting of the Henry County Board to discuss Governor JB Pritzker's orders to close indoor operations in bars and restaurants in Region 2.
It was explained that the county health department has the authority to suspend permits and discontinue all food service at businesses that are deemed to pose “a substantial hazard to public health,” according to a 2018 food ordinance adopted by the county after the state adopted the federal Food and Drug Administration's food code.
Duane Stevens, administrator of the Henry-Stark health department, said his agency was “not going door-to-door-to-door” looking for violations of the governor's orders, but they would investigate when they got a complaint.
With the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing now above 14% in the county, Mat Schnepple, director of the Office of Emergency Management, said local officials are going to meet again to review local numbers on Nov. 23 and at that time decide whether it's necessary to continue the latest mitigation measures.
County board chairman Marshall Jones said while it wouldn't be feasible for restaurants and bars to serve people outside, he did see reason for the stricter rules.
“We have to do everything we can to protect as many people as we can to stem the virus,” he said.
Board member Roger Gradert said he didn't understand closing businesses that had been making sure people wore masks, kept their distance, use sanitizer and had put up shields. He advocated limiting all businesses rather than just one industry.
A woman asked why restaurants are being singled out. “The food has nothing to do with it--from everything I've read and heard, COVID is not foodborne.”
The state health department has said contact tracing has determined substantial spread happens at bars and restaurants.
Jones said the state still had $175 million in BIG Grants (Business Interruption Grant) still available and people were being encouraged to apply. He said he knew of people who had gone to bars and had contact with someone who was COVID-positive and had gone home and infected others.
“I'm not minimizing problems, but we've got to ensure we're not spreading the virus,” he said.
“We cannot not comply with the governor's orders because that ship has sailed,” board member Kippy Breeden said. She said she would propose drafting a letter to the governor to be signed by board members, businesses and mayors protesting the blanket order. “We need to put our foot down; we need to show our support together.”
A Colona business owner said he'd complied with all state and federal mitigation practices despite a $200,000 loss of income.
“The business cannot withstand that revenue loss,” he said. “We had two choices: go out of business or take the risk. We have elected to stay open.”
Kevin Gerard of Crescent City Bar and Grill in Galva said his business had to liquidate $10,000 worth of inventory when the first shutdown happened last spring.
“We came out of this with a lot of debt because of that,” he said. “I'm thinking this will last through the end of the year. I'm not going to throw money into a business for two months with no hope of reopening.”
John Cernovich of Kewanee said his business could survive a two-week closure, but he felt closing businesses down “makes no sense whatsoever.” He said they'd been very strict about asking customers to put on their masks when they went to the restroom or while waiting for tables amid “some pushback.” They've also been wiping down menus and having hand sanitizer at every table. “It is a big deal to ask us to close down,” he said.
Stevens said Cernovich's business meant a lot to the community and to his family in particular.
“It isn't about you; it isn't an attack on you. I know that it feels like it is,” he said.
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