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Lee, Whiteside health departments log complaints

Violating new coronavirus resurgence mitigations in the last week by some area businesses resulted in a stream of complaints to the Lee and Whiteside County Health Departments, officials said last Friday.

The enhanced clampdowns, which took effect Oct. 3 at 5 p.m., were announced by Gov. JB Pritzker on Sept. 29 after Region 1’s seven-day average of positive cases was 8% or higher for three consecutive days.

Under the harsher rules, no indoor service is allowed at bars or restaurants and reservations are required for outdoor service, which must conclude by 11 p.m.

Patrons will also be prohibited from ordering or waiting at the bar, and all indoor gatherings must be limited to 25 guests or 25% of overall room capacity, whichever is fewer.

But at least one of those guidelines was not followed at some businesses in the first six days of the 14-day mitigation period, according to complaints reported by citizens to the health departments.

“We’ve had a fair amount of complaints come in since Saturday,” said Cathy Ferguson-Allen, the Lee County Public Health Administrator. “We hope we don’t get more this weekend.”

Ferguson-Allen couldn’t provide details or totals of the number of complaints made to her department, but said there was “no shortage” associated with a range of businesses and issues, from patrons and staff not wearing face coverings at restaurants to indoor drinking at bars.

“It’s frustrating,” Ferguson-Allen said, pointing to potential exposure to the virus at an Amboy bar announced Saturday and possible exposure linked to two Dixon bars the week before.

“We understand how crucial business is for our bars and restaurants,” Ferguson-Allen said. “But now is not the time to go out and ignore the guidelines. Now is not the time to gather indoors at businesses.”

Since Oct. 3, the Whiteside County Health Department has recorded 28 separate complaints alleging violations of the resurgence mitigations, according to data obtained by Sauk Valley Media.

Of those complaints, at least 17 had been followed-up with by Friday. None of them resulted in a non-compliance warning, a county health department document issued to a business if a health department official observes a violation of an Illinois Department of Public Health coronavirus guideline.

Public health officials in Whiteside County have received an additional eight complaints since Oct. 3 related to normal Phase 4 Restore Illinois reopening guidelines, all of which have been followed-up with.

Two of those complaints were substantiated, and two notices of non-compliance were issued, according to the data.

No business has been hit with an order to disperse, the document issued if a business fails to comply with IDPH coronavirus guidelines after it receives a non-compliance warning, since the Oct. 3 resurgence mitigations were put into place or since the IDPH emergency rules were adopted in August.

Public health officials said last week ahead of the resurgence mitigations’ installation that their enforcement would largely echo the process used to enforce the normal Phase 4 guidelines.

That process is not meant to be punitive, said Cheryl Lee, the Whiteside County Public Health administrator.

“Local businesses took a loss early on and they still can’t function at their fullest level,” Lee has said. “There are lots of things they need to put in place to be in compliance, but that’s something we try to help them with, rather than punish them for. “

Both Lee and Ferguson-Allen have said that an education-first strategy has been effective in enforcing the normal coronavirus guidelines.

They expect similar results if the enhanced mitigations are enforced through courtesy calls and reminders, rather than through harsher tools like the non-compliance warnings.

Ferguson-Allen said she sent a letter to businesses in Lee County outlining the new guidelines, and that she doesn’t think she’ll have to issue any orders to disperse because of it.

But she added that if a business refuses to comply with the normal Phase 4 guidelines or the resurgence mitigations after education and non-compliance warnings, then she may refer the case to the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission or the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

“Nobody wants this to escalate or go anywhere extreme,” Ferguson-Allen said. “But we have to take these mitigations and their enforcement seriously if we want to be on the other side of this pandemic.”