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Not Social Distancing Or Limiting Seating? Restaurants And Bars In Springfield Can Be Fined

Signs outside a store in downtown Springfield encourage handwashing and the use of face masks.
Mary Hanse
NPR Illinois
Signs outside a store in downtown Springfield encourage handwashing and the use of face masks.

Restaurants and bars that don’t comply with Illinois’ indoor seating limits and other rules to curb the spread of the coronavirus could face a $500 fine from the city of Springfield. Further noncompliance could lead to the city temporarily suspending a liquor license.

Mayor Jim Langfelder signed the executive order Friday afternoon instructing businesses to follow rules outlined by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for Phase 4 of the governor’s reopening plan. They include employees wearing masks, limiting indoor seating to 25% capacity and spacing tables 6 feet apart.

“We know there are many establishments working hard to keep their customers and employees safe,” Langfelder said in a news release. “We cannot allow others to disregard these necessary health measures, which jeopardize public health and our community’s ability to stay in Phase 4.”

He said the process will be complaint-driven, and businesses will be given a verbal warning first before a fine and then 7-day suspension of liquor license. But he’s not ruling out doing spot checks on businesses.

The announcement comes as Sangamon County Department of Public Health announces 19 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total in the county 632. Public health officials have said the uptick in cases is related to people going out more. Several businesses have announced temporary closures after employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Langfelder said the goal is to make sure all businesses follow the guidelines now, so the region does not have to return to stricter regulations under Phase 3 of the reopening plan, which banned indoor seating at restaurants, among other restrictions.

“Numerous people tell me they cannot survive if they roll back to Phase 3,” he said. “You think we have an issue now with closing restaurants; it will be in my opinion disastrous, with the closing restaurants (if we move to back to Phase 3).”

Cities and local liquor commissioners, which Langfelder is, have had the authority to do this, according to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Langfelder said he’s putting the rules in an executive order now as cases grow in Springfield.

He said police or firefighters, who enforce things like capacity limits for fire safety, could give the warning and then assess fines.

The mayor signed previous executive orders to enforce limits on gatherings and ensure businesses were putting up signs and enforcing social distancing. Langfelder said to his knowledge, no fines were given for violating those orders.

If business owners have questions, they can contact the Springfield Fire Department’s Fire Safety Division at 217-789-2170.

Healthcare Leaders Urge Compliance

Meanwhile, leaders of Springfield’s major medical institutions released a joint statement Friday with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health urging residents to continue to wear face-coverings in public, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.

“These practices are critical now more than ever,” said Gail O’Neill, director of the Sangamon Department of Public Health. “We have started to see an uptick in cases locally, and disregarding masking guidelines and social distancing standards is certainly contributing to the rise.”

The healthcare leaders also emphasized that it is safe to seek medical care. Nationwide, hospitals are seeing fewer emergency room visits as people fear the risk of contracting COVID-19 when seeking medical care.

“We understand people are worried, but healthcare facilities are some of the safest places you can be right now,” said Dr. Gurpreet Mander, chief physician executive for HSHS Illinois. “We're ready to take care of all your health care needs; and encourage you to not delay your care.”

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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