Rockford mayor, Democratic lawmakers: Ease dIning restrictions in region

(The Center Square) – The mayor of Rockford is among leaders in northwest Illinois pushing back on a state mandate that shut down indoor dining in the region.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said the order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker to move Region 1 into Tier 2 mitigation status with additional restrictions because of an increase in positive COVID cases amounts to a death sentence for local bars and restaurants.

“They have implemented every single one of the mitigation factors that we have asked them to do,” McNamara said. “They take reservations. They’ll check temperatures. They’ll use hand sanitizer. They’ll not place utensils at the table. But to be closed down for indoor dining, as we are going into the colder weeks and months, we’re really just saying close your doors, you’re not going to make it through the holiday season.”

Under the current restrictions, indoor service at bars and restaurants is prohibited in Region 1, and establishments must close at 11 p.m.

McNamara, a Democrat, and state Rep Maurice West, D-Rockford, have penned a letter to the governor, asking that the region be moved to Tier 1 mitigation status, which would allow restaurants and bars to maintain indoor dining at 25 percent capacity.

The move comes after a similar letter sent to the governor and signed by local Republican leaders, also requesting Tier 1 restrictions.

McNamara said he understands the governor has a difficult job in managing the pandemic and understands that positivity numbers are increasing in the area.

“We’re not naive. We’re not on a different planet,” McNamara said. “We understand we need mitigation. All of our businesses understand that, but the idea that you’ll close, for many of these folks, 90% of their business just doesn’t make sense to me.”

He says the available data simply doesn’t support a move as drastic as this.

“Here in our region, there are no statistics that show that restaurants and bars are the leading source for COVID-19 positive cases,” McNamara said. “I believe you need a broader spectrum of mitigation efforts that don’t go as deep to have an impact. I think a targeted approach to just bars and restaurants really doesn’t do a lot of good.”

Some restaurants in the area have pledged to keep doors open, despite the order.

McNamara said he doesn’t recommend that course of action, even though he disagrees with the restrictions.

“I certainly understand their frustration, their anger, and their belief that they need to stay open to survive,” McNamara said. “With that being said, at the city, we do follow executive orders. We do follow state law. And so we are out there enforcing even though we’re opposed to it.”

The mayor says officials are conducting enforcement with education and awareness being the main goal, as opposed to “a punitive leading effort.”

Despite the differing opinions on the best way to address bars and restaurants in his city, McNamara doesn’t believe this is necessarily evidence of the need for more local control over mitigation efforts during the pandemic.

“If you have 1,100 municipalities all creating their own rules, almost all of them become ineffective,” McNamara said. “We have transient populations that move from municipality to municipality, either for recreation, for leisure, for work, for worship, for groceries. And so you have to have some consistency out there.”

McNamara says he’s hoping Pritzker will take the city’s input into account and consider an early change for northwest Illinois.

Unless Pritzker acts, a rolling average positivity rate of 6.5-percent must be maintained for three consecutive days across the region for mitigation rules to be adjusted.

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