OREGON – Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle says his office won’t be enforcing the state’s new COVID-19 mitigation rules that start Saturday, but the Illinois State Police could.
Due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the office of Gov. JB Pritzker has ceased allowing indoor dining and drinking in the region indefinitely. Pritzker has said Friday that ISP will be in the Rockford region this weekend enforcing public health rules.
“The Sheriff’s Office won’t be going around closing any places,” VanVickle said. “The state police, I suppose it could occur here. They would have to go through the state’s attorney’s office at some point. Charges would go through him and the county.”
VanVickle’s office has not enforced any of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines since the start of the pandemic and released a statement on May 14 explicitly stating that. He has said there is no mechanism in place to charge, arrest or fine someone in violation of the order.
Other area sheriffs have come out with stances similar to VanVickle's including Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana.
On Friday, VanVickle said he had not spoken to the Illinois State Police regarding possible enforcement in the area over the weekend and going forward. He also said he hasn’t received any information on the issue from the state as a whole.
“It doesn’t change our operations,” VanVickle said. “We will continue to enforce criminal and traffic laws. We’ve helped businesses answer questions on things like occupancy, but that’s about it.”
Three Oregon-area businesses, Sledgehammer’s bar and The Blackhawk Steak Pit, both north of Oregon and Cornett’s Chana Tap in Chana have posted on Facebook that they plan to operate as usual on Saturday and beyond, defying the Governor’s orders.
"We feared losing our business and our employees losing their income. We as a small business in a small town can only sustain losing money for so long before it means the end of the business. I’ve worked at, and now owned, the Steak Pit since I was 18 years old and have dedicated my life to making it a great business," the Steak Pit post read. "We employ single mothers, we employ couples that their entire income comes from the Steak Pit. I can’t let them down. If there was an end date to this, 1 week, 2 weeks, possibly we would consider closing, but that’s not the case. This is entirely open ended.
"Because of this we chose to seek legal advice. We went to an attorney that has been representing businesses throughout the state since this began. He explained to us that we do have rights, and we do not have to close down. This is not a law," the post said.
A meeting was held in Rockford Thursday evening by attorney Thomas DeVore of Sorento, Illinois, where he advised area bar and restaurant owners that they have no legal obligation to follow the state order.
“We have no issue with businesses operating like that,” VanVickle said.
Oregon Mayor Ken Williams issued a statement Friday saying he understands citizens and business owners have concerns about enforcement of the new order.
“The City of Oregon’s position continues to approach this as a health issue,” Williams said. “Any violations of the Governor’s order will be referred to the Ogle County Health Department. Any questions or concerns should be directed to them.”
One Oregon restaurant owner said he plans to follow the order, despite the impact it will have on his business.
“We’re going to close,” Jeff Ajvazi, owner of Spring Valley Restaurant in Oregon, said. “We’ll do delivery and pick up. We didn’t consider staying open. It’s very bad. But what are we going to do? I don’t know how much we’re going to lose. I would expect 70 or 80 percent of our business.”