DeKALB – A month after a social media post about DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith dining indoors at an area banquet center started to circulate, local health officials confirmed that would no longer fly under Illinois Tier 3 COVID-19-related mitigations that started last week.
Lisa Gonzalez, administrator for the DeKalb County Health Department, reviewed with local health officials Tuesday what the mitigations meant during a virtual Board of Health meeting.
“It did change some things in the community where – banquet halls were being allowed to have groups of people come in by reservation and they could serve food – this mitigation strategy now makes that not allowed,” Gonzalez said.
The Oct. 20 social media post, which drew criticism aimed at the mayor for dining indoors while such acts were prohibited because of case surges, also included a photo of Smith’s breakfast group of five dining inside.
The restaurant or venue was not named in the social media post, although Smith and banquet hall staff later confirmed it was Faranda’s Banquet Center. Smith said he’d thought indoor dining at banquet centers was OK.
It was a controversy that spurred questions about whether indoor dining could be allowed at banquet centers instead of restaurants with reservations – a point not clarified initially in early mitigations imposed Oct. 3.
Gonzalez reiterated Tuesday that the state Tier 3 mitigation recommendations also include limiting gatherings to just a person's own household.
“If you remember, it went from 50 to 25 to 10, and now they’re recommending that you just gather with those in your household,” Gonzalez said.
Bill McMahon, owner of Faranda’s and Lincoln Inn, said he has not offered indoor dining at Faranda’s for the past week or so anyway, citing tightened restrictions over the past month.
He said he hadn’t heard from local health department officials on changes to banquet center rules as of 6:15 p.m. Tuesday.
McMahon said he thinks people generally are more concerned with recent case numbers and the virus starting to hit “even closer to home,” and he’s planning to offer curbside pickup and drive-thru dinners for Thanksgiving service.
“So we’ll just try pivoting again,” McMahon said.
McMahon said he thinks the health department is doing the best they can, “caught between a rock and a hard place.” He said he’s looking forward to an effective vaccine hopefully coming soon.
“And when it does, we’re going to be welcoming people back” for indoor dining, McMahon said.
Gonzalez said the health department still is adhering to its five-step enforcement process for whenever it receives a complaint for noncompliance per the statewide mitigations. She said it has been challenging to enforce those mitigations, especially with restaurants and bars, and health officials are continuing to work with those owners, focusing on education and trying to obtain voluntary compliance.
“But we are still meeting a lot of resistance in the community,” Gonzalez said.
The update comes after the county saw hundreds more positive COVID-19 cases in November, which has seen close to the same amount of cases recorded in all the previous months of the pandemic combined locally. Health officials also said during the Tuesday meeting they are expecting the number of cases and resulting hospitalizations to increase because of people gathering outside of their households for the upcoming holidays against health recommendations.
DeKalb County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. also wrote in a Tuesday social media post that he is urging residents to not risk their lives or the lives of their friends or relatives by having a large family gathering this year.
“It is not worth the risk and our hospitals and health care workers cannot take on a huge surge of patients beyond what they have now,” Pietrowski wrote. “Be thankful for your family and thankful for advancements in vaccines and treatments so that hopefully, by Thanksgiving 2021, we can gather without worry with our family and friends.”