Springfield and Sangamon County officials insist they support Gov. JB Pritzker’s new COVID-19 restrictions, despite announcing a plan Tuesday to delay by two weeks enforcement of a ban on indoor dining and drinking.
The governor imposed the restrictions in Region 3, 18 counties in west-central Illinois, after the average positivity rate rose above 8% for three days. They took effect Sunday, but enforcement is largely left to local officials.
Andy Van Meter, chair of the Sangamon County board, said theirs is a phased approach. Indoor dining and drinking will be allowed with a 25% capacity limit for two weeks in an effort to bring down the surge of cases. If it doesn't work, the ban will go into effect.
“We're trying to give a lifeline to our restaurants and get the numbers down within the framework of the governor's orders,” Van Meter said at a news conference at the Sangamon County Department of Public Health Tuesday. “We fully understand that if we fail in this effort, additional mitigation will be implemented swiftly.”
Pritzker responded to officials refusing enforcement in his daily COVID-19 briefing.
“The fact is that local officials who are not doing the right thing, are the ones who are going to be responsible for the rates of infection going through the roof. And our hospitals getting overrun and people are dying, if they don't enforce the rules,” he said.
When asked about the possibility of more infections and hospitalizations happening over the next few weeks, Van Meter said they would change course.
“This is not a TV movie, where people are dropping dead at their desks,” he said. “The medical professionals are monitoring the numbers every day. If we see a significant spike over where we are right now, the experiments over and we immediately go into the full mitigation.”
The local officials promised strict enforcement of current capacity limits, a limit of 10 people per table and the face mask requirement, arguing that that could make the difference.
Businesses will also be required to collect the name and phone number for all customers, and ask if they or anyone in their household has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last month. Health officials say it will be used for contact tracing.
Bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., mirroring the governor's orders. Customers are not allowed to sit at bars or countertops, and must only eat or drink while seated at a table.
The establishments must also keep windows in areas with tables open one inch to "increase the volume of fresh air entering the building" and keep their HVAC system running at maximum capacity to increase airflow, according to documents provided by the county.
The new county rules cover all restaurants in Sangamon County, including the ones in Springfield, and the bars in unincorporated areas of the county. They take effect Friday at 12:01 a.m., according to a county spokesperson. They do not cover bars with liquor licenses from other jurisdictions.
Mayor Jim Langfelder will make the case for council to support the rules at a special city council meeting Wednesday night. He said they could also look at stricter mask rules.
Langfelder said the officials are trying to balance the harm of the virus with the harm that mitigation measures have on people’s livelihoods and health.
“It's not just the ones impacted by the virus that get the virus that's very serious,” he said. “But I know on the other side of the equation, individuals that did not get help when they needed it. And that had the same dire consequences.”
Van Meter and Langfelder said local medical advisors support the plan. None of the medical advisors or representatives from the area’s healthcare organizations were at the news conference.
‘Stepped Up’ Enforcement
Police Chief Kenny Winslow and Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said businesses should expect more “spot checks” to see if they’re complying with the new rules.
“We're strategizing, we're going to enforce this even further,” Winslow said. “It's not just going to be restaurants and bars, it's going to be our retail establishments. It's going to be our convenience stores.”
Campbell said if he hopes increased checks will lead to more voluntary compliance.
Sangamon County State’s Attorney Dan Wright said the new local ordinances would give him a “mechanism for enforcement” the governor’s orders did not.
“That's what we will continue to aggressively enforce,” Wright said.
Correction: On Wednesday night, the mayor clarified that Sangamon County and Springfield law enforcement officials can enforce new rules for restaurants in the county and city under the resolution approved by the Sangamon County Department of Public Health. The resolution presented Wednesday states the city's support for the rules. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the resolution would give authority to Springfield Police to enforce it.