The mayor of Normal and central Illinois lawmakers say the state should reconsider COVID-19 mitigation efforts set to go into effect on Wednesday.
Mayor Chris Koos said restaurants and bars already have suffered during the pandemic and have done their part to curb the spread.
“They’ve tried to comply with every edict that has come out of the state government and most of them will in this community. They are as much the victim as anyone here. They have tried to do the right thing,” said Koos.
Koos said he will co-sign a letter from a group of Illinois mayors asking the governor to look at ways to help these businesses and possibly re-evaluate metrics used to gauge whether a region should be shut down.
“There are three metrics being used and only one is being used in this order. That’s the rate of positivity. Hospital availability and ICU availability were not factored into the current decision,” said Koos.
Koos acknowledged contact tracing in Illinois has shown bars and restaurants are the second-leading source of COVID-19 cases. But he said another factor is even more important: small gatherings of family and friends.
“If people want to help the restaurant community, they also need to cease having these small group family and friends gatherings, cause this is where a lot of the positivity is popping up,” said Koos.
Acknowledging there is no clear answer about what the right thing is, he said there is not enough revenue in the community to support restaurants through takeout alone, and the community will lose establishments if it goes forward.
“So what we’re trying to do is to make this shutdown as realistically and viably as short as we possibly can," he said.
Koos downplayed enforcement options.
“We’ve never had an issue with restaurants pushing back, or bars pushing back and saying we’re not going to do that in our community, and I don’t see that happening going forward. If it does, we’ll address it when it happens,” said Koos.
He noted any citizen’s first step should be to complain to the health department that licenses food service operations.
Koos called on state and federal governments to realize certain businesses have been disproportionately hurt, adding mayors will get letters to congressional delegations and state lawmakers urging them to pass a second round of federal relief and to create direct state aid to businesses.
Influencing vs. mandating behavior
Push back from new limits on businesses intended to flatten the latest curve of coronavirus infections raises tension over the consent of the governed.
“I think it’s very hard for governments to mandate behavior,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman in a WGLT interview last week.
The Bloomington Republican urged state government to use positive influences to try to influence individual behavior.
“I think governmental mandates about how we conduct our lives, how we eat, how we interact in public, are very difficult. The governor has continuously made these mandates. The public receives them in very different ways. Some adhere to them strictly. Others resist them. I think that is something far beyond COVID. It’s just the natural difficulty that exists when regulating behaviors,” said Barickman.
He said the state administration can do more to persuade the public with facts, transparency and data and to encourage behaviors.
“I certainly encourage us to move in a certain way where we find common ground and whether it’s COVID or other things, we try to advocate for things that are backed by data, rational decision making and recognize that no big stick is going to force people to modify their behavior in every instance,” said Barickman.
Republicans have hit the transparency theme hard for several weeks now. Last week, Senate GOP leader Bill Brady of Bloomington asked for more evidence that proves health department assertions that restaurants and bars need tighter restrictions.
“Where’s the data? Where’s the transparency? This is a failure, I think, in government. It’s a failure to build consensus because of the lack of data,” said Brady.
Brady said he and other Republicans agree masks and maintaining social distancing are a vital part of containing the coronavirus, but the state also needs to keep the economy open and moving forward.
“There are many of us who believe there is more risk in social gatherings in private residences. That human nature tells us our citizens will lead to if they cannot safely go to a restaurant that has mitigated the safety precautions they need to,” said Brady.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, has gone further. In a news release Monday, he said decisions should not be made on a state or even regional basis.
“Local authorities should be making decisions about how businesses can operate safely and how students can safely participate in fall/winter sports," he said, adding the state orders have done more harm than good, and the latest ban on indoor dining and service cuts especially deep.
“This is a devastating blow to our local businesses that are still struggling to recover from the first round of shut down orders. Sadly, some never will,” he said.
Rep. Brady said local communities should have a say in their own destiny.
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