COVID-19 Illinois: Lake County restaurants reopen indoor dining, defying state's coronavirus restrictions

Timothy O'Toole's, Stevens' among Gurnee restaurants joining in
GURNEE, Ill. (WLS) -- Four Lake County restaurants are planning to welcome back customers Friday for indoor dining against state orders, part of a growing trend in the Chicago area.

In Gurnee this week, Timothy O'Toole's, Stevens', and Kaiser's Pizza and Pub joined The Shanty in neighboring Wadsworth to announce the move on Facebook.

The coalition is pledging what it calls a responsible, 25% reduced capacity, socially-distant indoor experience, which runs afoul of state-mandated Tier 3 mitigation rules.

In its online statement, the group said in part, "Our teams have sacrificed a lot since March with two full indoor shutdowns."

They go on to say all four restaurants "... have great respect for the safety-first approach each of our businesses have taken from the very beginning."

Nearby Riverside Cafe's Owner Paola Smith said she's also welcoming back customers inside, up to 25% capacity, starting Friday, encouraged by the other local businesses' decision.

That coalition said it has reached out to health officials to share its plans.

In a statement, the Illinois Department of Public Health did not specifically address the businesses' decision but said, "Lake County does not meet the metrics to return to previous tiers."

The Lake County Health Department said it was "aware" some restaurants planned to reopen Friday.

"Our policy has been and will continue to be that when we are made aware of restaurants violating the mitigation restrictions, we will contact them and if they choose to continue serving indoors, they will be issued a citation for violating the Lake County Public Nuisance Ordinance by creating or allowing conditions that are potentially detrimental to the health of the inhabitants of Lake County," the department said in a statement.

All of this comes as some other Illinois counties prepare to move out of Tier 3 mitigations.

For now, Chicago is not among that group, but the city's mayor is voicing her support for relaxing restrictions on city restaurants, too.

"I feel very strongly that we are very close to a point where we should be talking about opening up bars and restaurants," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

Read Lake County's full statement here:

"The Lake County Health Department is aware that some restaurants in the county intend to open for indoor dining on January 15, 2021. Under the Governor's Executive Order, indoor dining is still prohibited in Lake County. Our policy has been and will continue to be that when we are made aware of restaurants violating the mitigation restrictions, we will contact them and if they choose to continue serving indoors, they will be issued a citation for violating the Lake County Public Nuisance Ordinance by creating or allowing conditions that are potentially detrimental to the health of the inhabitants of Lake County. Fines may be assessed for these violations. Other enforcement measures may also be taken if there is evidence that transmission of COVID-19 has occurred, or is likely to occur at a restaurant if immediate action is not taken."

Illinois Restaurant Association also released a statement that read:

"We are appreciative of the dialogue with Governor Pritzker and his team. While every step towards reopening helps, today's announcement falls short of the restaurant industry's critical needs and expectations. As outlined, restaurants in all of our state's regions will remain closed for indoor dining until they reach Tier 1 - adding to growing debt, devastating job loss, and business closures. Additionally, the restaurants located in Tier 1 regions able to offer limited indoor dining can do so only at the lesser of twenty-five percent capacity, or 25 total guests per room. No restaurant can break even at that volume, let alone hire back their team members. As one of the most highly regulated industries in terms of health and safety - and with enhanced measures introduced during COVID-19 - Illinois restaurants know how to protect the wellbeing of their guests and team members. They are capable of safely serving more guests than what the state will currently allow, and they need more to survive this crisis. For the sake of the nearly 100,000 restaurant industry workers who lost their jobs between February and November, we urge the state to revisit this strategy and place more faith in the industry that for so long has served as Illinois' largest private-sector employer. The IRA will continue to press for more pragmatic reopening regulations in addition to greater support and relief for Illinois restaurants and hospitality businesses."
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