Chicago restaurants want to see data proving they're causing COVID-19 cases surge

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Thursday, October 29, 2020
Where is data proving restaurants are causing Chicago's COVID-19 surge?
Facing another shutdown that could cause permanent closures, restaurant and bar owners are demanding public officials prove they're causing the spike in COVID-19 cases.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As they say, "the proof is in the pudding."

In Chicago, restaurant and tavern owners said they're still looking for proof from government leaders that they are to blame for our current surge in COVID-19 cases. It's a question that could end up in court.

The ABC7 I-Team looked into why the government is targeting restaurants and bars in the latest pandemic shutdown.

State health officials provided some answers and a data graph, but restaurateurs and association representatives said it doesn't go far enough.

"We think what's happening to our Chicago restaurant community is unfair," said Roger Romanelli, the director of the Fulton Market Association, a non-profit economic development agency.

Romanelli suggested many of Chicago's 7,000 restaurants are at risk of failure because of the indoor closure order going into effect Friday.

Possibly among them, chef Martin Murch's Good Eats Group.

"Small independent operators aren't going to be able to make it through this next phase," said Murch.

His company has already closed one Lincoln Park restaurant and lost a lease on another.

"I feel that we are being improperly targeted. The restaurateurs are helping with mitigating COVID. When a guest comes into the restaurant we're requesting, we're helping navigate, we're managing that they're wearing their masks. We're managing that they're keeping the distance. We are helping in the process," he said.

Murch and other restaurateurs are demanding data from public officials to prove that they are the problem causing a spike in COVID-19.

"We need specific data. The governor needs to present the states data. The mayor needs to present the city's data and science and data need to lead the way," said Romanelli.

The I-Team asked Governor JB Pritzker for the data. State health officials later provided them with a graph that shows restaurants among the top places that COVID-19 patients visited within the previous two weeks of contracting the virus-- admittedly, a loose link.

"Contact tracing data doesn't tell you where somebody's caught it. In fact, there's no way really not to know where somebody's contracted COVID-19," said Pritzker.

"Unless the governor changes his mind, because of political pressure being applied that the plaintiffs, they would have to file an action in court and they'd have to seek emergency relief," said Gil Soffer, ABC7's Legal Analyst. "On the argument that this is going to cause them catastrophic harm, and that the governor lacks sufficient authority to do what he's doing."

Restaurant owners and associations said they have already spent millions of dollars trying to deal with the pandemic just to stay open, and now if faced with financing court cases to fight the closure, it may be insurmountable.

While Soffer said that the governor has the right to do just about whatever he wants during a public emergency, submitting scientific data to support his closure of indoor restaurant service would help defend a court case and convince the public that it is necessary.