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Economy & Business

COVID-19 Restrictions On Metro East Bars, Restaurants To Be Lifted Friday Evening

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference in Chicago recently where he announced the next round of COVID-19 Business Interruption Grants and warned of future state budget cuts without further federal government intervention. On Tuesday, the seven-day average statewide COVID-19 test positivity rate stayed level at 3.5% as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported another 1,531 confirmed cases of the virus. Sept. 29, 2020
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, seen in this file photo, told St. Clair County leaders that Metro East bars and restaurants may reopen for indoor service as of 5 p.m. with no time closure limits.

Updated at 1:40 p.m., Oct. 9, with comments from Metro East restaurant owners and elected officials

Additional coronavirus restrictions in the Metro East will be lifted Friday after the region met a key coronavirus measurement, according to St. Clair County leaders.

Bars and restaurants may reopen for indoor service as of 5 p.m. with no time closure limits. Parties of up to 10 people are allowed to eat and drink inside the establishments. Tables should be 6 feet apart or use impermeable barriers between booths that are less than 6 feet apart.

Other requirements for restaurants under Phase 4 of Illinois’ reopening plan are still in place, such as a statewide mask mandate when in public places where social distancing is not possible.

The restrictions were lifted after the region, which includes St. Clair, Madison, Bond, Washington, Clinton, Monroe and Randolph counties, managed to reduce the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive to below 6.5% for three consecutive days.

In a call with local leaders Friday morning, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health officials said the region could return to Phase 4.

As of Friday, the seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the metro-east was 5.8%, according to IDPH. The rate fell from a high of 10.5% on Aug. 27.

Restrictions went into place on Aug. 18 after the region surpassed an 8% positivity rate for three consecutive days. The state’s decision was met with strong pushback from local business groups and elected officials. Pritzker defended his position, saying the region’s economy could not return to full strength without controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Local legislators praised the return to Phase 4.

“Our small businesses were the hit the hardest by this mitigation plan,” state Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon. “Because of the commitment by the people of the Metro East to mask up and practice social distancing, these businesses will be able to return to operating how they were before the spike in cases.”

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said the announcement “could not have come soon enough.”

“I was not happy about the previous restrictions put in place, but it’s about time these restrictions were lifted,” Meier said.

Restaurant and bar owners in the region also welcomed the news of lifting restrictions.

“We’ve got everything set up inside. We’re ready to go,” said Mark Onsott, owner of Tavern On Main in Belleville.

Outdoor dining has worked well for Onsott since the region has seen balmy weather. He said he appreciates the renewed flexibility for him and his patrons ahead of cooler weather in the coming weeks.

“It’s all about the weather,” he said. “It will be whatever we can get inside plus overflowing outside, or wherever people want to sit according to the weather.”

The restaurant has 10 outdoor heaters to continue to offer outdoor dining for those who want it in the winter months, Onsott said. He added he appreciates the community’s patience and continued support.

“Everybody is pulling for us,” he said. “People will wait a little longer for their food because it’s harder to get food out with it being all spread out like this.”

Other local restaurants in the region won’t immediately reopen indoor dining spaces.

Christi Robertson, who owns C and C Food For Your Soul in Belleville, said she’s going to evaluate coronavirus case numbers before opening the inside of her restaurant.

“This is for the long haul,” she said. “If I’m sick, I have to shut the business down, because I run everything and I have to make sure we’re good around here.”

It’s easier for Robertson to keep her dining room closed than some other local restaurants because her menus are geared toward carryout, she said.

“If I have a chicken plate, or a fish plate, it fits better in a carryout container,” Robertson said. “Nobody really wants to get a steak and potatoes out of a Styrofoam box.”

Robertson plans to reopen her dining room if her customers want it, but she said she would likely limit how many people can be inside.

“I might only have seating for 20 people, which is a lot better than having seating for like 70 people that I have to watch and be concerned about,” Robertson said. “I’m willing to do it but I’m just concerned right now.”

St. Clair County leaders encouraged residents to continue following health guidance by wearing a face mask, washing their hands and keeping a social distance of at least 6 feet, so restrictions don’t return to the region.

“We can’t let our foot up off of the gas because otherwise we will be back doing this same thing again,” said Herb Simmons, St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency director. “... I just lost two friends, a husband and wife team, this week to the virus. So it’s real. It’s there. But this is a little bit of good news for us, especially our business owners and for those of you who maybe now can go out and get something to eat.”

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Eric Schmid contributed to this story.

Kelsey Landis is a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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