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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

In-Person Fundraiser Fuels Social Media Safety Buzz

Marlene and Larry Dietz wearing facemasks
Illinois State University
ISU President Larry Dietz and wife Marlene Dietz attended a fundraiser at Rob Dob's in Bloomington on Aug. 22.

A weekend fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club held indoors at Rob Dob's Restaurant that attracted donors and community leaders also attracted social media criticism, though guidelines were followed.

Following the fundraiser, photos circulated online that criticized people for chatting with masks off during the event. According to an event post on social media, 31 people attended.

Many nonprofits have either canceled fundraisers, or moved them online since the start of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic also has added financial strain for many of these organizationsas resources diminish and demand for their services increases.

“Fundraising is a difficult conversation for all human services agencies during these times,” Boys and Girls Club CEO Tony Morstatter said in an email. “The safety of our members, our staff, our families and our community is and will always remain our number one priority."

There is social pressure to mingle at such events, and it's easy to cut corners on wearing masks, or to stay too long too close to others. Some of the online criticism focused on Boys and Girls Club staff at the event who also work with children.

People standing and talking at a bar
Credit David Snyder
ISU President Larry Dietz was photographed standing next to the bar at Rob Dob's Restaurant in Bloomington during a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal.

"We follow state, local and business guidelines during this time to maintain the safety of our Bloomington-Normal community,” said Morstatter. 

Illinois State University music professor David Snyder posted one such photo of Illinois State University President Larry Dietz during the event without a mask.

“This is President Dietz tonight at Rob Dobs. He was meeting and greeting different people just like this for over an hour in a very crowded bar while we were eating dinner. I personally have no problem with it, but if you are going to create policies about wearing masks and social distancing for faculty and students on campus, you really should exhibit that out in public too. #redbirdcovidresponse,” said the post.

Snyder told WGLT he texted Dietz that night saying much the same thing. Snyder said he later removed the post because he thought that showing the photo would not help the university or the community get students to observe mask requirements or pandemic safety rules.

A spokesperson for ISU said Dietz followed public health protocols.

“Both the president and Mrs. Dietz wore face coverings and observed social distancing guidelines while walking into the restaurant, while being led to their table, while visiting with others at the event, while taking photos with The Pantagraph, and when leaving the restaurant,” ISU Director of Media Relations Eric Jome said in a statement. “While following all state and local protocols, they removed their masks while eating and while having an after-dinner drink at the bar with their dining companions.”

The Boys and Girls Club fundraiser is not the only instance of high-profile people attracting online critics. Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner recently apologized after he was spotted dancing at a Bloomington restaurant a few weeks ago while not wearing a mask, and the video clip attracted negative notice online.

"This is not acceptable practice in light of our recent COVID spikes," Renner said in a Facebook post. "Let's all try to work together to ensure better practices across the board throughout this pandemic."

Even though individuals like Dietz and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club may follow guidelines, what is OK one day can change later.

“Going out for food and drinks should not be a reason or an excuse to let our guards down in the fight against COVID-19," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Esike as part of an announcement of changes to rules for dining inside and outside. 

Before Tuesday afternoon, patrons had to wear a mask whenever on premises, except while eating and drinking at the table or bar. The new guidelines require patrons to wear a mask while seated during interactions with servers and other restaurant staff.

State officials said face coverings should be worn in any situation where people interact with those outside of their immediate circles.

“Due to a recent uptick in cases, we must take additional precautionary steps when we are out in public," said Gov. JB Pritzker.

Phase 4 regulations allow, bars and restaurants remain open with capacity restrictions to allow for social distancing – with seated parties of 10 people or less, tables spaced six feet apart, and standing areas at no more than 25% capacity indoors. 

McLean County has seen a major spike in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. The rise is tied largely to the reopening of schools and more college-aged students returning to Bloomington-Normal for fall classes. Nearly 300 coronavirus cases involved ISU students as of Tuesday morning.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.