Peoria Restaurants Prepare For Indoor Dining Ban As COVID Cases Surge

Central Illinois restaurants and bars only have a couple days to adapt to new bans on indoor service as COVID-19 cases surge across the region.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced the restrictions on Sunday as Region 2, which includes Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and the Quad Cities, entered its third consecutive day posting a 7-day COVID-19 positivity rate over 8%.

Chad Zike owns the Hungry Moose in Peoria. He said the new restrictions are "totally unfair."

"They have no statistics that can prove that it's coming from our restaurants," Zike said. "We have contact tracing where we can tell where a person's been by their positivity, who their contacts were. Yet nobody's listing restaurants."

Republican lawmakers have similarly charged Pritzker's administration with a lack of transparency around the criteria used to make mitigation decisions. That includes state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who represents the northeastern segment of Region 2.

“Our restaurants are being forced to close despite the lack of data showing they are the culprit for the recent increase in COVID-19 cases,” said Rezin. “In fact, many local health departments show that restaurants are very little to blame for outbreaks."

Still, Zike said he'll make the best of the situation, noting that a violation of Pritzker's orders could force small businesses to pay back state financial assistance grants doled out to help keep them afloat after the stay-at-home order.

"At minimum, we'll be open for curbside, as long as curbside is enough to carry the cost of operations," he said. "If it's not, then we'll close the restaurant down 100% until things are lifted."

Emily Cotton, co-owner of Cyd's in the Park, said the restaurant only started flirting with indoor dining again last week. That experimentation is coming to a quick halt with Pritzker's order.

"Our restaurant will continue to offer outdoor dining," Cotton said. "With the beautiful weather ahead, we're grateful. The hardest time for us is really looking more toward the end of November. Even if we're allowed to open at minimum capacity, it's really not going to amount to much. Restaurants need busy, crowded rooms."

Cotton said Cyd's does have outdoor heaters, but the expense of fuel means diners at every table won't get a heater exclusively to themselves. She said customers can help out by dressing appropriately for the weather.

"It's a huge hit to the restaurant industry in our community," Cotton said.

Banu Hatfield, co-owner of Zion Coffee, said the restrictions will have "serious consequences" for her business. While she expressed disappointment, she said she'll follow the governor's guidance.

"We recognize we're in the middle of a pandemic. Our heart is always to put people first, ahead of anything else," Hatfield said. "And we'll do what we need to do to get through this next phase."

Other central Illinois businesses, such as Macho Taco in downtown Peoria and Cheese Nuts Brickoven Pizzeria in Junction City said they plan to continue offering indoor dine-in despite the governor's order. Pritzker previously has warned such moves could force him to deploy Illinois State Police troopers to enforce the orders.

Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson was unavailable for an interview Monday. The Peoria city manager's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Under Pritzker's "Restore Illinois" plan, a region under the so-called "enhanced mitigations" must go three days at a 6.5 percent or lower rolling positivity rate to see restrictions lifted again. Conversely, two weeks with rates averaging over 6.5 percent despite restrictions could trigger additional mitigations, as seen recently in northwestern Illinois.

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