More and younger people are getting sick with COVID-19 in Sangamon County. The public health department and county government announced new enforcement mechanisms to tamp down the spread of the new coronavirus at restaurants and bars.
Local establishments are already supposed to be spacing tables six feet apart and limiting the number of guests to half their indoor capacity. Servers and bartenders should also be wearing masks, regularly washing hands and disinfecting surfaces.
But health officials say a few businesses aren’t, and they’ve been the source of part of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Under rules put out Friday, the health department or county can fine businesses up to $500 or temporarily revoke their liquor or food license if they don’t comply. The rules cover all the restaurants in Sangamon County and about 75 bars with liquor license in unincorporated parts of the county.
Brian McFadden, the county administrator, said the focus has shifted from preventing outbreaks in long-term care facilities, where most cases were in the first months of the pandemic, to addressing the spread among young people going out.
Liquor and food inspectors will be monitoring businesses to ensure they're following the rules, said Brian McFadden. And he said most have been cooperative so far.
“We never felt we had a need to do this until now when we see this pattern, which is this small handful of establishments that are just not even making an effort to be smart about this,” he said. “They’re almost thumbing their nose at us.”
Gail O’Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, said they have gotten some complaints from customers at restaurants that are crowded.
“Our recommendation is to leave. If you’re someone who wants to do your part to not get infected or infect someone else, just take your businesses elsewhere if that’s what going on,” O’Neill said. “Now that we have had a couple outbreaks that point to bars and restaurants, we have the ability to hold owners responsible.”
Friday, the county health department announced 22 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 783 confirmed cases since March. Nearly every day in the last two weeks, the number of new cases in has been in the double digits.
The rules come a week after Springfield Mayor Jim Langfedler instituted similar rules for bars and restaurants in the capital city.