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Bars and restaurants in McHenry and Lake counties will be forced to close to indoor dining starting Saturday, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced.

The restrictions come after the region’s positivity rate surpassed the 8% threshold for the third consecutive day.

“With Region 9 being added to the list of regions in mitigation, we are getting close to the entire state implementing mitigation measures,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release. “This is not just a warning, but a call to action. We continue to move backward, losing all the ground we had gained over the summer. We turned the state around once, let’s do it again.”

Increased mitigation efforts were explained Wednesday morning in a call with IDPH, the Illinois State Police, McHenry County leaders and local state representatives and senators.

“I asked them not to have it one size fits all,” McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said. “We are trying to get more flexible. I want to keep our businesses open.”

Under Gov. JB Pritzker’s five-phase Restore Illinois plan, Tier 1 mitigation efforts include a ban on indoor service and bar seating, set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Outdoor service under tents will remain available, Pritzker said in a news release issued Wednesday morning.

“I know this virus is hard on everyone. But this battle isn’t going away by itself,” Pritzker said in the news release. “We have to manage our way through it with the tools we have available to us.”

Per Tier 1 restrictions, bars and restaurants will be required to close by 11 p.m. and may reopen no earlier than
6 a.m. the following morning. Visitors must make reservations ahead of time and tables for outdoor dining must be spaced at least 6 feet apart, according to the state of Illinois COVID-19 Response website. Tier 1 mitigation efforts also include a ban on party buses and capacity limitations of 25 guests or 25% of the overall room capacity for both indoor and outdoor meetings and gatherings.

The state’s mitigation measures do not apply to polling places, but residents are encouraged to limit their exposure by voting early, wearing masks, using hand sanitizer and distancing themselves from other voters, the McHenry County Department of Health said in a news release.

“If we work together, we could avoid further mitigations and potentially see a return to Phase 4 restrictions in the next two weeks,” Melissa Adamson, public health administrator for the McHenry County health department, said in the release. “But that’s a goal that can only be achieved by following those preventative measures we’ve stressed for the past several months and working with your local health department to complete their case investigations.”

The IDPH will continue to monitor the region’s positivity rate for a two-week period beginning Friday. If the region sustains a positivity rate below 6.5% for three consecutive days, both counties will see the increased restrictions lifted and return to Phase 4, according to the governor’s plan.

Should the region remain in the 6.5% to 8% positivity rate threshold, McHenry and Lake counties will remain under Tier 1 mitigation restrictions.

If the region’s positivity rate were to still be at or greater than 8% after two weeks, both counties could be subject to stricter limitations under Tier 2 guidelines as was enacted in Region 1, which includes neighboring Boone and DeKalb counties. Those restrictions could include further limitations on indoor dining and the reduction of elective surgeries and procedures.

Although the state has the ability to pull liquor and gambling licenses from bars and restaurants violating mitigation restrictions, Pritzker said Monday that he’s reluctant to do so.

The Illinois State Police is charged with enforcing the restrictions, said state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, who was on Wednesday’s call. Decisions regarding schools will still be made at the local level, Reick said.

“None of us are pleased with these restrictions, and I’m extremely worried about the individuals who work in the restaurant/bar/hospitality industry who will once again find themselves in need of unemployment benefits,” Reick said in an emailed statement. “I’m also concerned about the economic impact that these restrictions will have on our area, just as we are now beginning to recover.”

State Rep. Andrew Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said took to Facebook Live Wednesday, where he called the math behind Region 9’s mitigation requirements “Voodoo science.”

“Gov. Pritzker is using Voodoo science because he’s actually changed the numbers arbitrarily,” Skillicorn said. “So back in May and June, he was using a 20% number of cases so we could reopen. He has dropped that now all the way down to 8%. He hasn’t explained why that it is. It’s just different. “

The 20% positivity rate benchmark was laid out in Pritzker’s five-phase Restore Illinois plan, which was released to the public on May 5. On July 15, Pritzker released a Restore Illinois resurgence plan, stating that new mitigations would apply if a region’s positivity rate averages greater than or equal to 8% for three consecutive days, as it has in McHenry County.

McHenry County was home to 6,532 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday afternoon – the most recent data available, according to the McHenry County health department. The county also had seen an increase in hospital admissions for three consecutive days as of Tuesday. Intensive care unit bed availability in McHenry County currently is at 58%.

COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets when people talk, cough or sneeze, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus also may spread by hand from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. That’s why restaurants that offer limited drive-thru, take-out and curbside pickup service are believed to present the lowest risk, according to the CDC.

On-site dining with both indoor and outdoor seating where seating capacity has not been reduced and tables have not been spaced at least 6 feet apart, on the other hand, is considered the highest-risk option for food service businesses, according to the CDC.

In a letter sent Friday to Ezike, Franks warned that “one size fits all” mitigation measures could further harm local small businesses already struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

Contact-tracing efforts in McHenry County, however, have been met with some opposition. People reached by county-employed contact tracers and case investigators are refusing to give information, such as the people who they had been in contact with, Lindsey Salvatelli, spokeswoman for the McHenry County health department, has said. 

In September, 16.1% of people were uncooperative, and this number grew to 28.4% in October.

Region 9, which encompasses Lake and McHenry counties, isn’t alone in its mitigation requirements, either. Three other regions in and around the Chicago suburbs – Region 8 (Kane and DuPage counties), Region 7 (Kankakee and Will counties), and Region 10 (suburban Cook County) – also are under Tier 1 mitigations. The city of Chicago is set to have the stricter restrictions take effect Friday.

Region 1, which includes the Sauk Valley, Rockford, and DeKalb, has been under even stricter mitigation restrictions since Oct. 3 following a steady rise in cases. Those measures were re-issued and extended through Nov. 14 through the governor’s executive order Friday following two weeks of positivity rates continuing to increase in the region.

Efforts to fight renewed limitations have included the filing of temporary restraining orders. Kane County Judge Kevin Busch on Monday granted one such order, thereby preventing Pritzker, IDPH and the Kane County Health Department from enforcing an indoor dining ban at FoxFire Restaurant in Geneva.

It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday morning whether McHenry County businesses might decide to follow FoxFire Restaurant’s lead and seek temporary restraining orders of their own.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has announced the second round of COVID-19 relief grants for small businesses. Those in health regions under tighter restrictions will get precedence. Business owners can find application information at www.dceocovid19resources.com.

McHenry County residents who need assistance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic can visit the county’s COVID-19 resources page at www.mchenrycountyil.gov/covid19resources, or by calling 211.

“It has been the elephant in the room for months as the second wave appeared,” Rhienna McClain, owner of 1776 Restaurant in Crystal Lake, wrote in a Facebook post on her restaurant’s page. “This virus may not kill you, but it is certainly the death of our industry and nation. I do not agree in destroying our nation’s economy any further by a mandated shutdown. I ache for the supply chain and the many wonderful people that make this restaurant possible.”

For more local news, visit Northwest Herald at https://www.nwherald.com.

McHenry County