As I write this, it's Friday, one day before DeKalb County restaurants and bars could have welcomed back indoor dining after two weeks in the doghouse.
They can't, though. In order to even begin having the ban on indoor dining lifted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, our health region, known as Region 1, needed to turn over three consecutive days of 6.5% positivity rates.
We’re in a tight spot—and even tighter, I think, as those around us flout the rules. The Winnebago County Health Department on Thursday announced they’d allow their local bars and restaurants to reopen for indoor dining with limited capacity.
Our neighbors, Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana are experiencing record-setting case counts and deaths. And the DeKalb County Health Department this week reported that 37 restaurants and bars were the product of 76 complaints of non-compliance in the past two weeks.
In response, we’ve noted many comments online, calling out those complaints with the age-old “snitches get stitches” rhetoric.
But you know who continues to bear the brunt of our ongoing disregard of public health regulations? Those exact same businesses.
The worst thing for them is this indefinite half-way dining option, such as outdoor dining for those willing to brave the dropping temperatures, or take-out meals which only go so far, or apparently, under-the-radar indoor dining, the latter of which carries risks of fines, loss of food permit, or even a potential outbreak.
It's a subpar way for staff at these restaurants to earn much-needed pay, and, as Bill McMahon, owner of The Lincoln Inn & Faranda's pointed out this week, this back and forth is causing customers to fear even coming out to eat at all.
Where do we go from here?
Two weeks ago, DeKalb County individually was still below the 8% threshold which determines mitigations.
Region 1 mitigations spurred a lawsuit filed Oct. 2 by area business owners against Gov. JB Pritkzer and IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike, asking the state to designate consequences based not on region, but county. At that point, Winnebago County still led the way with positivity rates (and to be fair, testing and population size).
Since that time, however, DeKalb County’s rolling positivity rate has risen, fluctuating between just below 8% to over 11%, and now, as of Friday, 8.5%, according to the DeKalb County Health Department.
I was inclined to agree with the intent behind the lawsuit – put forward by 11 restaurant and bar owners. Like them, I agreed with the principal behind decisions made by state officials, that if resurgences occur, there are steps we must dutifully follow. I also agreed with the call for more local control. Why not, if we in DeKalb County are following the rules, and below the threshold for further consequences?
It's a shame the financial stability of all of us depends on those around us instead of stable help from government leaders in Washington. If business owners didn't have to rely on brave patrons to pay their employees, perhaps there'd be less desperate measures taken. You can’t eat or drink with a mask on. I’ve been a waiter—if you’re not making tips, you’re not making money. And people who get take-out tend not to tip.
But then our local positivity rates started rising. We cannot just blame Winnebago County anymore. This is our mess now, too.
And it’s not just restaurants and bars. It’s gatherings, large, and small. Weddings, family backyard BBQs, interacting with those outside of your quarantine bubble—even for a weekend girls trip, a night of partying, a morning play date. All these things, without a mask, without proper social distancing, are contributing to the rise of cases locally.
In the past two weeks, we’ve tried to give space and voice to our struggling business owners, bar and restaurant owners, wedding venue and couples. They’re suffering. They’re tired of “flip-flopping regulations," as Karl Gallagher, owner of Karlsbad Tavern & Grill in Genoa said. Their livelihoods are dying in front of them.
But these regulations will continue to flip-flop if we can’t make a concentrated and consistent effort to change our behavior, even for a little while, enough to get the surge back under control.
In an interview with the Daily Chronicle this week, Northern Illinois University chief of staff Matt Streb said a large reason why cases at NIU plummeted since their own surge is because the campus community had a shift in mindset. And we've got to give credit where credit is due: NIU is no longer a contributor to our current plight.
It’s not about you, it’s about us. I realize that “the greater good” argument may fall on deaf and frustrated ears these days. But it’s really as simple as that.
Wear a mask. Socially distance. Don’t go out to places that you know aren’t being smart about public health precautions. Don’t hang out in close contact for prolonged periods of time with people outside of your quarantine bubble.
We can do this. We did do this before. DeKalb County’s health region was able to enter Phase 3 and 4 of the Restore Illinois plan in the summer. It’s getting colder now. Let’s not make our servers and bartenders and restaurant owners wait on you outside into the winter. Let's not make people push their weddings and graduations and football seasons back even more, until it becomes this never-ending "will they, won't they" hell.
If we try and do this right—even for the next two weeks—who knows? Maybe we'll move one step closer to more stable ground.