Although the cities of McHenry and Woodstock still won’t be enforcing the state’s ban on indoor dining, the two announced Friday that they are putting stricter mitigation measures into place for restaurants and bars in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The move comes as McHenry County, like much of the state sees rising case numbers and hospitalizations and the possibility of even stricter mitigations – perhaps even another stay-at-home order – looms on the horizon.
The rules laid out by McHenry and Woodstock Friday include restrictions for restaurants that choose to still allow indoor dining: They'll have to require reservations; limit group sizes to six household members; set tables 8 to 10 feet apart; and prohibit standing around, dancing or group congregating, instead allowing only table service.
Group meeting guidelines in both cities limit indoor and outdoor events to 10 people. Recreational activities have a 25 guest cap, or 25% room capacity, and workout groups are capped at 10 people or fewer.
McHenry County, as part of Tier 1 mitigations ordered by Gov. JB Pritzker, were ordered to close to indoor dining on Oct. 31, and at first, many local municipal leaders said they would take an “educational” approach over an enforcement one.
Recently, during a recent Board of Health meeting, Director of Environmental Health Patricia Nomm said noncompliance among food businesses, in particular the ban on indoor seating, has been increasing in McHenry County and across the region.
While Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said the city is encouraging people to follow protocols outlined by Pritzker, the city will not enforce the ban on indoor dining but will begin enforcing the other mitigations.
He said the city trusts that businesses will comply with them, as they want to avoid being fined or getting their liquor license taken away.
“I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for our local businesses, with confidence that they will try to assist us in this effort to mitigate the COVID-19 environment,” Sager said.
McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett said there needs to be a balance between the health and the financial well being of the employees and businesses in the community.
“Our goal is to just keep these businesses alive for the next month or two, to get through this, and hopefully start bringing the numbers down," Jett said.
Jett said that during a Zoom call with business owners, they indicated they would buy into the regulations and be responsible.
Penalties for businesses who repeatedly violate the cities’ mitigations include fines or even suspension of their liquor license. Violations by restaurants without liquor licenses will be referred to the McHenry County Department of Health.
“Our goal is to work with the McHenry County health department, get them all the information of any calls that we have and push it to them just like we've been doing,” Jett said. “It was important to come up with a plan like this because, as far as I'm concerned, there was just no plan. Everyone's saying that.”
Jett said he approached the McHenry County Council of Governments and its 26 mayors and village presidents with the plan, and is hopeful others will be on board on it.
“If we keep staying the status quo, we're never gonna get these numbers down,” Jett said.
Woodstock and McHenry are also planning on starting a “No Mask, No Service” campaign with local businesses.
“This is their opportunity to save their business," Jett said. "They need to buy in on this and make sure that they're wearing a mask for their sake and for all their employees."
Depending on what’s happening with other communities, Jett said he hopes they can get more places to sign on to this campaign, so they could potentially pitch in a certain amount of money for radio, social media or newspaper marketing campaigns.
Fines will not be given to individuals who do not wear masks, Sager said. But if businesses allow people to enter their establishment without one and they have a liquor license, they are subject to a violation and associated action, he said.
The McHenry County Board could potentially be looking to give the McHenry County health department more teeth when it comes to COVID-19 enforcement.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Board Chairman Jack Franks called upon the McHenry County health department on Thursday to figure out what they would need to enforce COVID-19 mitigation measures more effectively and draft up a resolution to be considered at Tuesday’s County Board meeting.