Meanwhile, Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder in a written statement issued this afternoon criticized the county's plan, saying it's too soon to resume indoor service. While the city will allow bars with commercial kitchens to open under county rules, the mayor said that any bar within city limits that doesn't serve food could be in trouble if it opens for indoor service under county rules. He said that the city has told establishments whether they will be allowed to resume indoor service.
"Bars that do not serve food, yet choose to operate against this order, will jeopardize their liquor license," Langfelder wrote.
In a press release issued today, the Central Illinois Licensed Beverage Association says that the county should allow establishments to stay open until 11 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. The group also says that restrictions scheduled to be lifted on Sunday shouldn’t be reinstituted unless the positivity rate – the percentage of coronavirus tests that come out positive – rises to 12 percent. The positivity rate has fallen to below six percent from nearly 17 percent last month. Under rules announced Wednesday by the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, restrictions could be reinstituted if the positivity rate climbs to eight percent and remains there for a week.
The county’s decision to allow restricted indoor service at bars and restaurants goes against public health directives issued by the state, which says that no indoor service should be allowed. The county in early November tried reinstituting indoor service in defiance of the state but reversed course within days as new infections and hospitalization rates soared.
The association is a trade group that organized a Dec. 19 rally outside the governor’s mansion that drew about 100 people, including several politicians. One was Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath, whom the beverage association quoted in its press release: “Our bars and restaurants are cleaner than our hospitals,” Redpath declared at a recent city council meeting. He subsequently was cited for not wearing a mask in council chambers, as required by city ordinance that allows for $50 fines.
Mike Monseur, acting association director who owns three Dew Chili Parlor restaurants in Springfield as well as Godfather Pizza franchises, said in the press release that the county has changed guidelines by instituting an eight percent positivity rate as a threshold for installing restrictions instead of going with a 12 percent rate. “While we appreciate the change of heart in allowing businesses to partially reopen, moving the goalposts yet again sets the county and businesses up for failure,” Monseur said in the press release. He also predicted that bars and restaurants will soon be closed again due to rising positivity rates.
“There will be a spike, but not because of restaurants and bars,” Monseur said in the press release. “Sangamon County/Springfield is a regional hub for medical care, so patients from outside Sangamon County come here to get treated, (so) those numbers go against us. If this is allowed to stand, we’ll be shut down again in no time.” Monseur also said that once reopened, restaurants and bars should stay open.
“Once we reopen, we should never go down the path of closures again, especially when there is no science behind the closures,” he said in the press release. Medical experts, however, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said that restaurants and bars are risky.
“It’s clear when you do tracing about where you get these outbreaks, it’s bars, indoor seating at restaurants at full capacity,” Fauci said during a Dec. 1 news conference. “When you’re in a restaurant, it’s very tough to eat with a mask on unless you figure out something I don’t know about.” Fauci is an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Under county rules scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, indoor service at bars and restaurants can resume with capacity limited to 25 percent. No parties larger than 10 will be allowed, and tables must be six feet apart absent physical barriers. Bar and counter service won’t be allowed, nor will dancing, live music or karaoke. No one may eat or drink while standing. One member of each party must leave a contact telephone number that will be accessible to the health department if needed. Hours will be restricted to 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., with all patrons required to leave premises by 9:30 p.m.
In his written statement, Langfelder said that the city's goal is to keep restaurants open for indoor service permanently once indoor service resumes. He criticized the county both for allowing indoor service to resume on Sunday and for setting 8 percent as the positivity rate that would trigger another shutdown. "The equation and timeline that was presented yesterday is not one for success," the mayor wrote. Noting that the county's rules are contrary to state directives, Langfelder added that any bar or restaurant that has received state funds for pandemic relief should check with the granting agency to make sure that reopening in defiance of state rules won't trigger repayment requirements.
Langfelder urged bars and restaurants to remain closed for indoor service until Jan. 12, a date he'd set earlier this month as a date to start allowing limited indoor service in restaurants, with bars reopening later. By remaining closed, Langfelder wrote, bars and restaurants won't be blamed if the positivity rate goes up as it did in early November, when the mayor blamed Halloween gatherings for a surge in covid cases that strained bed capacity in local hospitals. "The move to open on Jan. 3 is reminiscent of this past Halloween," the mayor wrote.
Ryan Bandy, association vice president and owner of Win, Lose or Draught in Chatham, said that he’ll stay closed, and he blamed the county. “I was elated to bring all of my employees back to work with the new rules released by Sangamon County, but when I found out I would have to close inside by 9 p.m., I decided to keep my business closed as it is not worth the hassle of having to push people out of the business right at 9 p.m.,” Bandy said in the association's release. “Due to this rule, my employees will remain out of work, unfortunately.”
In a written response to the association's press release, Gail O'Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, said that the health department sought input from restaurant and bar owners in formulating the rules set to take effect this weekend.
"The adjustments are part of a phased approach and while we share Mr. Monseur’s wish that our community metrics never again require additional mitigations, that is like hoping for warm weather in February, we have to deal with what Mother Nature hands us," O'Neill wrote. "The more restrictive metrics that would trigger additional mitigations are our medical advisers' best estimate of the appropriate threshold to keep our community safe."
Michael Higgins, owner of Maldaner’s restaurant in downtown Springfield, criticized the county for allowing restaurants to resume indoor service and restaurants that will reopen under rules that stand in opposition to state public health directives.
As a condition of receiving relief funds distributed by the state, Higgins said that he agreed to follow all state public health directives. “It’s a substantial amount of money,” Higgins said. “By doing that, you are subject to the state rules, and if you are found in violation, you have to pay it back. We do not want to pay it back, and so we will follow the state’s mandates, not the county’s.”
Restaurant owners, Higgins predicted, will break the county's rules.
“Reopening gives everyone a license to pack ‘em in because no one enforces the rules,” Higgins said. “Restaurants that pack ‘em in and don’t care, that’s on them. Fuck them – and you can print that.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.