State and local leaders talk about impact of pandemic on restaurant and hospitality industry

St. Charles Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Di Ciaula served as moderator for discussion

ST CHARLES – With restaurants and bars still not able to provide indoor service because of a growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, state and local leaders spoke Friday as part of a Zoom discussion on the pandemic's impact on the restaurant and hospitality industry.

The discussion featured State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, and Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch. St. Charles Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jim Di Ciaula served as the moderator for the discussion.

Maisch said the pandemic has been both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. But he said both can be addressed at the same time.

"We just have to have more of a balance here among the dual crises we're facing right now," he said. "Right now, in my opinion, it's so heavily skewed towards just the public health side. We're going to see potentially 1/3 of small businesses questioning whether they will ever open their doors again."

He suggested that a commission be formed to review what policy decisions have been made.

"Did we look at alternatives? Maisch asked. "Did we really go ahead and consider all the science or did we kind of get into a group think, that this is where we're going and we're just going to see it all the way through. There's nothing that keeps the legislature from doing that."

DeWitte believes that bars and restaurants should be treated differently. He pointed out there is more social interaction at a bar than at a restaurant.

"People are sitting at tables [at a restaurant] and people are socially separated," he said. "The waitstaff are all masked and being careful how they're dealing with people."

DeWitte sent a letter to Gov. JB Pritzker asking that he reconsider the total ban on indoor dining at bars and restaurants and instead, restrict alcohol sales to table service.

"He has refused to identify the distinction," he said. "People can eat and dine safely."

Campton Hills Village President Mike Tyrrell agreed with DeWitte.

"Bars are typically unmasked, shoulder to shoulder and certainly the restaurants, for the most part, are following the necessary safety protocols," Tyrrell said.

He said perhaps municipalities should be able to act on their own in dealing with the pandemic.

"There are a great number of municipalities out there which are well below the curve for positive infection rates," Tyrrell said. "Campton Hills' [positivity] numbers are incredibly minuscule. We're like at half a percent. Yet restaurants in Campton Hills are being punished for something that might be occurring in DuPage County on a massive level or in higher density areas within Kane County."

DeWitte also believes bowling alleys can continue to operate safely. Bowling alleys, including St. Charles Bowl, had to shut down temporarily starting today as part of the new mitigation efforts put in place to deal with the soaring number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

"You could very easily socially distance participants choosing to bowl for an evening by spreading them out in every other lane and you could very easily be exceeding that 25% percent capacity that the mitigation rules now say have to be implemented," DeWitte said.

Michael Isaacson, assistant director for community health for the Kane County Health Department, said the department is trying to focus on "where the most potential risk is."

"When we're doing enforcement, we're really looking at what's happening in those businesses to see what's the real risk and if a situation looks like it could be creating a place where there is more disease spread, that is where we are going to take stronger action," he said.