FILE - outdoor dining, Illinois, restaurant, Virus Outbreak Illinois

A server, second from right, tends to customers in an outdoor dining area at a restaurant in Vernon Hills, Ill., Thursday, June 25, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – With the falling temperatures this autumn, Illinois’ largest restaurant association said it can no longer support Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigation plan that prohibits dine-in service.

The governor is threatening to take liquor licenses away from small businesses that don’t comply.

Pritzker has now announced mitigation efforts that prohibit dine-in service for bars and restaurants in regions throughout the state. Those regions have had a COVID-19 positivity rate above 8 percent for more than three days. Several other regions are inching toward that benchmark.

“It’s alarming that restaurants are among the only businesses affected in the Governor's most recent announcement given our unparalleled levels of safety,” said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association. “We do not agree with the order to completely eliminate dine-in operations.”

Early on in the governor’s unilateral efforts, Toia stood with Pritzker to encourage cooperation with measures.

“We urge all businesses to continue following official rulings from the state of Illinois as we approach the next phase of reopening," he said in June, which was months into the governor’s pandemic executive orders.

Toia’s tone changed late Wednesday after the governor threatened businesses that don’t comply. He said there will be visits from Illinois State Police and possible revocation of liquor licenses.

“Moving backward in this manner spells complete devastation for the restaurant industry,” Toia said. “The extreme measures outlined by the Governor’s team will result in the permanent closure of countless restaurants statewide, eliminating thousands of jobs and desolating communities inhabited by millions of residents.”

The association emphasized that it is not advocating that operators disobey executive orders, despite fact that the association does not support the mitigation measures.

In Springfield, local officials are hearing the blowback from small business owners who experienced the shutdown this spring and see what’s happening in other parts of the state with the governor’s actions.

“We want to make sure that we keep our businesses open,” Springfield Mayor Langfedler said Tuesday when noting Region 3 could soon have mitigation measures implemented by the governor. “Southern Illinois, they’ve closed the bars and restaurants, that’s really concerning for Springfield if you could imagine if we have to roll back the restaurants. I’ve had numerous restaurants say they will never reopen, these are longtime restaurateurs. That is very concerning.”

Pritzker defended his actions against restaurants and bars.

“Bars and restaurants are a major spreading location for the virus,” Pritzker said Wednesday. “We’re not making arbitrary decisions.”

Toia said in one county, he’s been provided data that showed just 6 percent of outbreaks over the past seven months were linked to restaurants “yet their indoor dining was shut down.”

“As the science surrounding COVID-19 has evolved, so must the metrics for mitigation.” Toia said. “Earlier curfews and reduced occupancy levels are two examples of more reasonable measures.”

Pritzker’s Phase 4 plan has a tiered mitigation strategy for when a region he’s lined out has increased COVID-19 positivity. So far of eleven regions, Pritzker put prohibitions on indoor service at bars and restaurants in four of them. In Will and Kankakee counties, they’ve had the mitigation switch flipped twice with more mitigations coming Friday.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.