With indoor bar and restaurant service set to be suspended in at least four healthcare regions across Illinois, health officials are defending their decisions to impact those businesses, calling eateries and taverns “significant spreading locations” of the coronavirus.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, says that contact tracing and a multitude of studies have shown that there are three primary locations where the virus is spreading in Illinois and the rest of the United States.
“The top three places that come up over and over again are people’s workplaces, school, and restaurants and bars,” she said.
That data point poses a major problem, as state health officials try to walk a delicate line between allowing businesses to remain open, for children to continue receiving as much in-person education as is safely possible, and to allow bars and restaurants to continue to serve customers.
Ezike broke down each of those challenges in her remarks Tuesday.
“In terms of the workplace, there are simply people who can’t work from home,” she said. “We’re not going to not have people go to school. We’ll continue to let local health departments and school districts decide on what will keep children and teachers safe. The one thing we can act on is bars and restaurants.”
And act is exactly what the state has done in a variety of situations. With positivity rates spiking in Kane, DuPage, Will and Kankakee counties, all indoor bar and restaurant service will be suspended for two weeks effective Friday. In Region 5, located in southern Illinois, indoor service will be suspended beginning Thursday, and such service is already suspended in Region 1, located in northwestern Illinois.
While state officials have been careful not to attribute the recent spike in coronavirus cases and positivity rates to eating in restaurants and drinking at bars, Pritzker says that it is well-documented in various studies and in contact tracing protocols that those locations tend to spread the virus more quickly than other situations, and that is why state officials have been so quick to impose restrictions on those particular establishments.
“It’s because all those studies done about bars and restaurants show they’re significant spreading locations, and we’re trying to stop that as best as we can so those places can reopen indoor service,” Pritzker said.
If positivity rates in a region exceed 8% for three or more consecutive days, Illinois’ regional mitigation strategy triggers new restrictions that will eliminate indoor service at bars and restaurants. Size limits on gatherings, which stand at 50 or fewer under the provisions of Phase Four of the state’s “Restore Illinois” plan, also go down in that situation to 25 or fewer.
Outdoor service at bars and restaurants can continue, but those establishments are required to close at 11 p.m. under the regional mitigation plan.
If numbers remain too high after a two-week period, the state can either choose to allow those restrictions to remain in place, or can implement additional rules.