Sangamon County Again Sets COVID-19 Record, New Rules For Bars, Restaurants To Stay Open Take Effect

Nov 6, 2020

Mirroring Illinois’ statewide spike in Coronavirus cases, Sangamon County on Friday reported a record one-day total of new COVID-19 infections with 288 new cases.

Friday was the second day in a row Sangamon County reported record new highs in reported cases for both the county and state. On Thursday, the county tallied 228 new cases.

Outbreaks in local long-term care facilities accounted for a small portion of the spread. Thirteen cases were reported from The Villas West in Sherman – a retirement and independent living center – and another 40 from Aperion Care, a psychiatric and nursing facility on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Springfield.

But the spread is “all over the place”, Sangamon County Department of Public Health Director Gail O’Neill said Thursday

“There’s all kinds of age groups and addresses,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s a common link at this point. Maybe with contact tracing we can find something out.”

O’Neill said some new cases are indicative of spread within the same family or household. She asked for the public’s cooperation in answering contact tracers’ questions about where they might have been exposed.

An Illinois Department of Public Health report released Friday shows local contact tracers in Sangamon County have gotten in touch with about three quarters of new cases better than the state average of a little more than half.

The contact tracing data released by IDPH identified community events, church or religious locations, schools ,and colleges and universities as the most common places of outbreaks in Region 3 - which covers west-central Illinois. Outbreaks are five or more cases linked to a single location in two weeks.

Meanwhile, restaurants, office settings, hospitals or clinics, and schools topped the list of common exposure locations - that is where people were in the two weeks before they tested positive for COVID-19.

O’Neill said the county is hiring more tracers to handle the recent spike in cases.

Compliance Checks Planned For The Weekend

The new surge comes as executive orders from both Mayor Jim Langfelder and Sangamon County Board Chair Andy Van Meter take effect Friday. They outline a two-week plan to keep bars and restaurants open for indoor service, which defies Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID mitigation plan for the region, which centers on shuttering indoor service to combat the virus’ massive resurgence..

O’Neill said the skyrocketing pace of new COVID cases is concerning but the health department is sticking with the board’s plan for indoor dining for now. The Sangamon County Sheriff Department and Springfield Police will do compliance checks this weekend.

“We don’t want to go in and have to close places and take away liquor licenses or food licenses,” O’Neill said. “But we can and we will for blatant disregard for what we’re trying to do.”

County and city officials said they’re trying to balance economic harm with public health risks by delaying the governor’s rules for two weeks. If infections and hospitalizations don’t slow down by mid-November, officials said they’ll pivot to banning indoor service.

If Sangamon County reaches a 12% average positivity rate of new cases at any point in the next two weeks, or Region 3 dips below 20% of ICU bed capacity, as tracked by Illinois Department of Public Health, county officials said that would consider full enforcement of Pritzker’s plan for shuttering indoor dining and bar service.

The average positivity rate for the county was 10.7%, as of Nov. 3, the most recent data available. That’s up from 8% nearly two weeks ago. The ICU bed capacity for the region currently sits at 31%.

The county’s new rules allow bars and restaurants to continue indoor operation at 25% capacity. They must limit table size and collect information from patrons for contact tracing. All patrons must sit at a table, and the establishments must keep any operable windows in dining areas open an inch and run HVAC systems at full blast to encourage air flow.

Under Langfelder’s order, individuals can be fined $50 for not wearing a mask in retail stores, and businesses are subject to $250 fines for not requiring customers to comply with the state’s mask mandate.

The Springfield City Council approved a similar ordinance Wednesday night. This was after tabling a resolution that supported new city and county rules for restaurants. Langfelder’s resolution also called for an end to house parties, where he said many have caught the virus, and for everyone to get a flu shot.

The resolution got pushback from both sides, falling into a debate over controlling the virus or guarding against further economic harm.

Pritzker has pushed back against local municipalities refusing to enforce his new restrictions, specifically panning the argument that local officials are trying to protect economic interests. He said temporary bans on indoor dining and drinking now could help bend the curve of infections and prevent further restrictions.

The governor said this week he’s considering statewide measures that have been in place before – which could include closing salons and barbershops, non-essential retail businesses and limiting in-person gatherings to 10 people – if upward trends in infections, hospitalizations and positivity rates continue.

“If you want to keep the economy moving forward, they ought to go and enforce the mitigation that we put in place,” Pritzker said.