COVID-19 restrictions loosen as McHenry, Lake counties move to Phase 4 Wednesday

More high school sports return, restrictions loosen for taverns, retail and indoor recreation

McHenry and Lake counties moved into Phase 4 of tiered COVID-19 measures Wednesday, allowing for all competitive high school sports to play, loosened capacity limits for retail and personal care businesses and enables restaurants to serve parties of up to 10 people.

The move also opens the door for taverns and bars that don’t serve food to reopen for the first time since the fall and to serve customers in “standing areas” at a capacity of up to 25%, according to the Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.

“We’re excited to see the transmission of the virus declining to allow for additional loosening of restrictions,” Melissa Adamson, Public Health Administrator for the McHenry County Department of Health said in a Wednesday news release.

Throughout the past several months, some businesses like Sofie’s Whiskey and Wine in Woodstock weren’t able to incorporate delivery and carry out service to stay afloat. Instead, they applied for whatever financial aid was made available and planned for the unexpected, owner Tim Shabani said.

“Every little bit helps,” he said.

The return to Phase 4 is an optimistic sign for businesses like Shabani’s that hope to see in uptick in traffic during the summer months.

“I think it’s definitely a step in another right direction,” Shabani said. “I would assume that more people are going to be comfortable going out and in return that should translate in more consistency and business.”

Region 9 (McHenry and Lake Counties) was able to make the move Wednesday because it marked its third day of a positivity rate at or under 6.5%, the one metric that had been holding the region back from progressing to looser restrictions.

But past false hopes have left some local business owners skeptical.

“It has been a taxing year,” Crystal Lake’s 1776 Restaurant owner Rhienna McClain wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday. “There is so much angst to get back to it, but I cannot shake the feelings of worry, fear, and doubt. Everyone talks about getting back to normal, but what...is normal? I am not sure if any of this is going to work.”

Despite her doubts, McClain and her team will re-open 1776 Restaurant for limited indoor dining starting at 4 p.m. Feb. 10.

“I have succumbed to the fact that it is not going to be the same,” McClain wrote. “How could it be? Every comeback has a bottom. This is our bottom. The place where we restart. Please, let’s all be patient with each other as we start over.”

Under Phase 4, all IHSA sports can return to play. The Illinois Department of Public Health had deemed some sports, such as boys and girls basketball, as “higher-risk sports,” meaning they were prevented from playing games under the state’s tiered mitigation measures.

Some indoor recreation facilities, such as indoor skating rinks and bowling alleys, are also permitted to reopen. Meeting spaces are able to host up to 50 people, according to the plan.

“The way forward, to Phase 5, will continue to demand that we practice the universal precautions to minimize the circulation of the virus,” Adamson said in the release sent out by the McHenry County health department.

“This includes staying home if you feel ill or were in contact with someone who is known to have the virus,” she said. “Someone who gets the virus might be asymptomatic, but that individual is still able to pass the virus along to someone who might not be as fortunate.”

The next step forward would be a big one as Phase 5 of the governor’s plan is a return to business as usual and will only come when infection rates are minimal and/or more Illinois residents have been vaccinated.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool to help us end the pandemic, but demand for the vaccine vastly outpaces our supply, and we urge people to be patient,” Mark Pfister, Executive Director of the Lake County Health Department, said in the release.

Kelli Duncan

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.