With more COVID-19 restrictions set to go into place Friday, local leaders in McHenry County were concerned about the effects on businesses but hopeful that people would listen to the guidance in an attempt to lessen the spread of the virus.
Gov. JB Pritzker announced these Tier 3 mitigations, which includes the shutting down of casinos, indoor video gambling terminals, museums, theaters, indoor recreation centers and indoor youth/club and adult recreation sports, on Tuesday.
Under these restrictions, retail stores, including “big box” general merchandise stores, can remain open but at 25% capacity, while grocery stores and pharmacies will be at 50% capacity.
Pritzker emphasized during a Tuesday news conference that this is not a stay-at-home order.
“The best way for us to avoid a stay-at-home order is to stay home,” he said.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said he feels the approach the governor’s office took this time around is fairer to small businesses.
“Last time, when they did the lockdown, they had some stores that they called essential and others not ... there’s no picking winners and losers here,” Franks said in an interview Tuesday. “Everyone is being treated the same, and we’re not giving carte blanche to the big box retailers like we did in March.”
Given the trajectory of the spread of the virus across the state, Franks said, the Tier 3 mitigation measures were “a bit of a relief” as he was expecting something stricter.
“I don’t like it, it’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s probably necessary,” Franks said. “We have to commit to help our local businesses, but at least they’re still in the game.”
Tier 3 mitigations come as Illinois continues to see rising cases and record hospitalizations because of COVID-19.
Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at the conference that the second wave now is here.
“We anticipated it and we warned about it and we all knew it was coming,” Ezike said. “But it’s not only here, it’s more dire than what we saw in the spring.”
While the state will see a rise in both hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths for weeks ahead because of infections that have already happened, Pritzker said “we can change our longer-term outcome.”
“We can save potentially thousands of lives in the next few months if we make changes right now to stop this in its tracks,” Pritzker said.
Ezike acknowledged that people would be “downright angry” at the stricter mitigations. However, “Right now, this virus has backed us into a corner,” she said. Ezike urged people to turn their anger into something positive.
“Instead of trying to buck the mitigations, can we all just follow them, acknowledging that these are what are needed to get back to some semblance of normal?” she said at the news conference.
Acting Crystal Lake Mayor Haig Haleblian said enforcement of the new Tier 3 mitigations will be discussed by city staff and the city will make an announcement if there are any changes to how they currently are conducting enforcement.
Like other McHenry County municipalities, Crystal Lake has been taking an “educational” instead of an “enforcement” approach to Tier 1 mitigations, which included a ban on indoor dining, and forwarding complaints about noncompliant businesses to the health department.
Several municipal officials contacted by Northwest Herald reporters said they would continue taking this approach when it comes to Tier 3 mitigations.
Woodstock will not be enforcing anything, including the indoor dining ban, except for the measures it announced on Friday, Mayor Brian Sager said.
Both the city of Woodstock along with the city of McHenry said Friday they would enforce some of the other Tier 1 mitigations, including requiring reservations; limiting group sizes to six household members; and table service only.
Other offices will be responsible for enforcement of any rule that is not the ones signed off on by McHenry and Woodstock officials.
Cary Mayor Mark Kownick said the village does not plan on citing businesses, or doing random checks on them.
If they get a call for service, the village of Cary will respond, but any warnings or further action would come from the McHenry County Department of Health.
Algonquin Village President Debby Sosine previously said in a Facebook post that mitigation complaints would be forwarded to the Kane or McHenry health departments and the Illinois Department of Public Health. This won’t change as the state moves to Tier 3 mitigations, she said.
“Unless there’s crime being committed, the police force is more than happy to go in and educate people,” Sosine said.
Under the recent mitigations, a third of the county’s workforce, or more than 170,000 employees, will be asked to work remotely, while more than 37,000 retail workers will have adjusted schedules or hours in light of capacity limitations, according to the McHenry County Economic Development Corp.
Sager said morale is low in the broader community, as it is all over.
“There is an extreme amount of fatigue with COVID-19. Yet there is also a strong desire to work together to follow the guidelines,” he said.
Sager said he believes the mitigations will have a greater impact economically than in the spring.
“We are, I think, unfortunately going to lose some of our small businesses,” Sager said.
As a municipality, he said, Woodstock will continue to help with grants to assist businesses.
However, the amount of money available for grants, compared to the expenses small businesses are facing, is very small, Sager said.
“We are going to lose some [city] revenue, but again I think the large [stores], the retail units, are going to be able to keep things buoyed and I think positively in that regard,” Sager said.
Haleblian, who also owns Exceed Floor and Home, said most small businesses rarely reach the 25% capacity limit in the first place.
“I don’t think that that’s going to be as much of a factor as just psychologically, how it’s going to affect the consumer,” Haleblian said. “Will people be afraid to go out and shop now?”
What’s needed is to ensure that businesses are practicing safe standards, as Haleblian said most have already been doing.
“The health of our citizens is really paramount here,” Haleblian said. “But at the same time, the health of our businesses is important. I mean, these folks have to survive, so I think we need to think of new and creative ways to save our businesses.”
Kownick said Cary’s mission is to keep residents safe and healthy, while fostering a healthy business community.
“We’ll continue to encourage people to wear their face masks, practice social distancing,” he said. “Just as important is to support our local economy by frequenting all of our establishments in town by carry out, delivery, and [finding] other options ... so that we keep our local economy going as we try to flatten the curve.”
Kownick said he doesn’t want to alienate small retailers against larger big box stores.
“There’s no reason why we can’t promote people to continue to shop in a safe manner in a reduced capacity so that people feel safe and comfortable,” Kownick said.
Retail businesses have been through similar restrictions before, Algonquin’s Sosine said, referencing ones put in place at the beginning of the pandemic that were later lessened.
Still, Sosine said it is a very sad time in the area.
“If people would walk around with masks on, it would help immensely,” Sosine said. “This is a highly contagious virus, and until it runs its course, it’s going to continue.”
• Senior reporter Katie Smith contributed to this article.