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Local

DeKalb Mayor Smith: New dining restrictions to stop COVID-19 spread for region 'disappointing'

Waitresses take care of diners having lunch on the patio at PJ's Courthouse Tavern in Sycamore Friday. Outdoor dining at restaurants and other businesses were able to open for the first time Friday since being shut down due to the pandemic.
Waitresses take care of diners having lunch on the patio at PJ's Courthouse Tavern in Sycamore Friday. Outdoor dining at restaurants and other businesses were able to open for the first time Friday since being shut down due to the pandemic.

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After more than six months into the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said the restrictions being placed on DeKalb, the county, and its entire health region is disappointing, but another challenge for bar and restaurant owners to rise to.

"We've gotten this far and we'll try to get through this," Smith said. "I really do feel for our bars and restaurants."

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced on Tuesday that due to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Region 1, which includes DeKalb, mitigation restrictions will be put in place Saturday.

This includes no indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Mitigation was reached when the region hit an 8% seven-day rolling positivity average - which currently it has two days in a row but is very likely to hit the third day in a row on Wednesday.

"I'm just extremely disappointed," Smith said. "I think this is going to be devastating news for some of our restaurants and bars, especially coming off a weekend with good enhanced business procedures in place as I understand it. To see DeKalb County at a place we didn't want to be is disappointing, but if you look at the numbers for all the counties in our region there are five counties significantly higher than DeKalb County."

When Bill McMahon, the owner of The Lincoln Inn and Faranda’s in DeKalb – which is consolidating into one location due to the pandemic's economic impacts on business – heard about the new mitigations, he was shocked and in disbelief.

“It’s absolutely devastating,” McMahon said. “It’s the final blow for a lot of small businesses. We’re out of money, we’re out of energy, we’re out of staff. It’s basically bankruptcy for a lot of restaurants. ... A lot of businesses are not going to survive."

Region 1 includes Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties.

Looking at the most recent available public data for the region, Winnebago County has been a major contributor to the uptick in the positivity rate. It has conducted roughly 40% of the region's tests, and has a rolling seven-day positivity rate of 9.3%, according to IDPH. Three of the past four days, Winnebago County has been at 10.3% positive or higher.

Whiteside County comes in at 7.5%, Ogle County at 6.9%, Lee County at 9.4% and DeKalb County at 7.4%.

"Again this is probably one of those problems when so many counties are grouped together," Smith said. "I'm not blaming anyone, I just think it seems to me there may be an instance where DeKalb County has taken this COVID scenario very seriously. When you get into the lesser populated areas of the region that's where you might see higher numbers. I don't know if some folks in those areas are as vigilant as we are over social distancing, wearing masks and large gatherings."

State Representative Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore) echoed those sentiments that other areas are dragging the county down.

“These mitigations are both a setback and a wake-up call that we’re all in this together when it comes to keeping each other healthy and keeping our economy open,” Keicher said. “DeKalb County has a lower positivity rate, below the warning level, than several other counties in our region. While that is a good thing, it is frustrating that our local communities’ best efforts are not enough to avoid mitigation. Higher rates among our neighbors, particularly in Winnebago, Boone and Lee Counties are pulling us down. We should have greater independence at the county level to respond with mitigation efforts locally to trends like this.”

Matt Duffy, executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, also worried that people will just go to a neighboring region or state.

"You've seen it in regions that have had mitigation, whether it's Will County or the St. Louis area, people just tend to go to the next region to go out to eat or to a bar. Or even over to the next state when you're close to the border," Duffy said "That makes it difficult to keep positivity rates down."

Smith said he didn't think the mitigations would be a short-term issue.

"I feel this is going to be very, very difficult to come out of in a short period of time," Smith said. "I'm really disappointed that the restaurants are not going to have indoor dining, especially now the colder weather is settling in. There are very few restaurants I'm aware of that have outdoor dining areas with heat. But creativity set in when this first hit back in March. I have full confidence that those bars and restaurants will use their creativity to adjust to this mitigation."

Duffy said he was confident the businesses can respond.

"Obviously we hope this isn't long term," Duffy said. "But if it is I believe in the ability of our bars and restaurants, with what they've learned so far, to be able to adjust."

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