Three complaints have been filed against Pizza Ranch in Bloomington for opening indoor food service ahead of the end of the month target in the Restore Illinois pandemic recovery plan.
The McLean County Health Department said Friday it will keep the identity of the complainants confidential. Pizza Ranch re-opened its buffet style restaurant earlier this week.
Health Department Environmental Health Director Tom Anderson said the agency has investigated the complaints and the safety precautions Pizza Ranch said it was making.
He said the findings will go to Pizza Ranch, to the McLean County State's Attorney, and to the Illinois Attorney General's office. He said the state's attorney and attorney general will give the Health Department direction about available options, including whether the restaurant's operation presents an imminent health hazard and should be shut down.
"To go on further, we have to negotiate with other departments and find if there is reasonable cause to close the establishment," said Anderson. "If they find there is a civil violation, they will give us direction as to how to proceed with the civil violation. If they do not find any civil violation, there is nothing we can do. If it's a criminal violation, I presume they would give us guidance how to proceed."
Last month, McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp told the board of health it is unlikely that violating the state's Restore Illinois plan is a criminal violation. He said the Illinois Public Health Act is the controlling law.
"If there is an imminent public health hazard, we can lock the door. That would be a determination between Mr. Knapp, Miss (Jessica) McKnight, administrator of the health department, and I would presume that I would be a part of that conversation," said Anderson.
Closing Pizza Ranch down and padlocking the doors would require a determination that its operation creates an imminent health hazard to the public. Knapp told the board of health that "imminence" is a gray area. It takes five to 10 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop after an infection.
Historically, "imminent public health hazard" has rarely been invoked, and generally for individuals, not businesses. It has resulted, for example, in sequestering tuberculosis patients who have not been compliant in their treatment regiment, which can expose the public to the TB bacillus and create drug resistant strains of TB.
Pizza Ranch has not responded to a WGLT request for an interview made on Thursday.
Anderson called for public patience.
"I understand the economics of it and the financial burden it (the shutdown) is putting on businesses. But if we have a widespread virus that holds us at phase three, or worse yet puts us back to phase two, that will be devastating to our economy. I'd like to believe the public can hold out just a little bit longer to get to the point we can have indoor dining and do it safely," said Anderson.
He said it is not just the business' responsibility to protect staff, customers, and the community--it is the responsibility of individual members of the public to protect themselves.
"If people don't feel comfortable going to a business and eating indoors, don't do it," he said. "There are other places to entertain yourself. There are other places to find recreation in a safe manner without exposing yourself to the virus. Don't put yourself at risk."
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.