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Some Restaurants Say They'll Stay Open Despite COVID Restrictions

Some McLean County restaurants kept their dining rooms open on Wednesday, in defiance of Gov. JB Pritzker’s order to stop indoor dining in regions with high COVID-19 positivity rates.
A number of bars and restaurants in Bloomington-Normal quietly let patrons dine inside as the state's ban on indoor dining took effect. A drive through the Twin Cities on Wednesday afternoon showed Rob Dob's, Cheeks Bar and Grill and Maguire's Bar and Grill among open restaurant dining rooms with patrons inside.

Restaurant entrance
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
Rob Dob's in Bloomington was among the Bloomington-Normal restaurants that allowed indoor dining during a Wednesday visit.

There were no signs or social media messages to indicate indoor service. Managers at each location either declined to comment or weren’t available.

Maguire’s owner Mike Hill later told WGLT his business had closed indoor dining, and was following all public health guidelines.

Attorney Tom DeVore has challenged the governor’s restrictions in court, saying Pritzker has no legal authority to enforce the shutdowns.

DeVore said he has close to 1,000 bar and restaurant clients in Illinois and recently spoke with several of them in McLean County. 

He said bars and restaurants are being unfairly blamed for COVID spread.

“If they were convinced that bars and restaurants were the super-spreaders and that closing them was the only way to mitigate, I don’t have a client that says that they wouldn’t do their best to try to make that happen,” DeVore said.

Tom DeVore
Credit Tom DeVore
Attorney Tom DeVore has challenged the governor's executive orders regarding the coronavirus, saying he doesn't have the authority to close businesses.

He added he encourages all of his clients to follow public health protocols, such as enforcing masks and social distancing. He allows that local liquor commissions have the authority to sanction businesses that violate those protocols.

“I advise them to follow the health rules regarding masks and capacity limits, etc. because those are real rules that have consequences. But they can otherwise stay open and continue to stay open and they are not breaking any laws and there’s no consequences for not following the recommendations, which is all they are,” DeVore said.

While some business owners are more discreet about their desire to allow patrons inside, others want everyone to know they are keeping their doors open.

Jack Pinjoli owns Jack's Cafe in LeRoy and Tremont. He said relying on curbside service for much of the summer was a “disaster” because the food quality suffers. He said he can't afford another shutdown.

“How am I going to survive?” Pinjoli asked. “I’d like someone to tell me, ‘Don’t worry Jack. If you close for two weeks, here is $30,000, give it to your employees and close the doors.’ I’d be more than happy and pay the electric bill and pay the mortgage.”

Pinjoli said he fled the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s when he was about 20 years old, leaving a young child behind. He said living under Communism, he didn't like being told what to do.

“I was told what to do due to (living in) a Communist country in the former Yugoslavia and I didn’t like it for people to tell me what to do, so I escaped and I sacrificed,” Pinjoli said.

The mitigations will last until the 20-county region that includes McLean County gets its COVID testing positivity rate consistently below 6.5%. As of Wednesday, the rate had jumped to 10.1%

During a recent news conference, Pritzker called on local officials to ensure businesses comply for the sake of public safety.

“If they don't do their job, we're going to end up with hospitals having to turn people away," Pritzker said during his regular COVID-19 press briefing on Tuesday. "And that's just not something that I find acceptable."

Pritzker also has suggested businesses and schools that flout the guidelines would subject themselves to legal liability if there’s a COVID infection that could be tied to their establishment.

DeVore said he considers that a scare tactic, arguing it would be impossible to link a COVID outbreak to a specific location.

“That liability is so miniscule that it’s nonexistent and the governor only does that because his other tools of intimidation are starting to wear thin and he knows it,” DeVore said.

On Wednesday, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner sent a letter to Pritzker raising concerns about the health data the state is using to determine when a region should face restrictions.

“Overall, the city has done better than many communities in Illinois in terms of infection rates and other factors,” Renner said. McLean County’s current seven-day positivity rate is 5.8%.

Renner added the city would continue to forward complaints to the McLean County Health Department.

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Contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu