Kankakee and Will counties’ bars and restaurants have once again been placed on lockdown, thanks to rising COVID-19 positivity rates.
On mid-Monday afternoon, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced via press release that as of Wednesday, bars and restaurants in this two-county region — known as Region 7 in terms of the COVID-19 mitigation effort — will not be allowed to offer any indoor service.
In addition, outdoor seating will be restricted to tables being at least 6-feet apart and the establishments must close by 11 p.m. The restrictions will be in effect for 14 days. If the positivity rate remains 8 percent or higher after 14 days, more stringent mitigations will be applied, according to state documents.
Indoor restaurant and bar business had only returned on June 27 after nearly three-and-a-half months of being restricted to only outdoor service. After only two months, the crackdown will be back in place. This announcement means restaurants must return to outdoor dining or take-home orders. Bars return to service only in outdoor areas.
This new round of restrictions come as Region 7 was found to have three consecutive days — believed to be Aug. 19, 20 and 21 — of positivity rates greater than or equal to 8 percent. The 8 percent figure, according to the state, determines whether additional community mitigation interventions are needed for a region to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Tom Spellman, co-owner of The Hoppy Pig restaurant in Bradley, said Monday he will defy Gov. Pritzker’s order.
“We have a right to operate our business. We are not violating any legal rules or health rules. Everyone has the right to live their life. If someone doesn’t want to come inside, then don’t,” Spellman said. “Until the court says Gov. Pritzker is following the law with these orders, we will remain open.”
Spellman said these orders will bankrupt small businesses.
“We either let them shut down every small business in Illinois or we do our best to stay open and provide a safe and clean place for people,” he said. “If he tries to shut me down, I’ll see him in court.”
Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson said after Monday’s village board meeting that many businesses were already on the brink of collapse. He fears this move could put many over the edge.
Asked if the village would be checking to make sure businesses are closed as ordered by the governor, Watson said the village doesn’t have that kind of manpower.
“The village of Bradley will not be going around checking on businesses. At least we are not planning on it,” he said.
Recently, Region 4, the Metro East area which includes the counties of Bond, Clinto, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Claire and Washington, had been placed under intensified mitigation measures by Pritzker and the IDPH.
Region 4’s status will be reviewed on Sept. 2. The region continues to report increasing COVID-19 numbers.
A press conference is set for today (Aug. 25) in Joliet to discuss the COVID-19 positivity rates within Region 7 and the state.
Local officials had been anticipating a Monday afternoon Pritzker press conference, detailing how Kankakee County’s positivity rate has been tracking and how it has been mixing with the rate from Will County, which shares Region 7 with Kankakee County. However, the press briefing did not take place, and it appears it will be held at noon today in Joliet at the Will County Health Department.
Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis said Monday he is not privy to the up-to-date positivity rates upon which state officials are basing their decisions.
“It appears we may be asked to do more [in Region 7] in terms of mitigation than what we are doing,” he said.
Bevis did note that the latest state data demonstrates the fastest-growing age group in terms of positivity are those between 20-29.
This age group would be those — in general — more inclined to be gathering at bars or restaurants or in some other type of larger group settings.
Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler was anticipating the move on bars and restaurants regarding indoor seating.
“That’s a big one right there,” he said. “All the gaming machines are inside and won’t be on, so no new revenue generation.
“It’s so damaging. We’re doing things right in Kankakee [County]. Our numbers aren’t even close to Will County’s.”
Wheeler also doesn’t like the timing of Pritzker’s announcement today with the new restrictions taking effect on Wednesday.
“We have a noon press conference, and that wouldn’t leave us very much time to prepare all the bars and restaurants for the new restrictions,” he said. “It’s largely unfair. ... We’re trying to be proactive and fair [to our businesses].”
Nick Huffman, co-owner of the Looney Bin bar in Bradley, is getting frustrated with restrictions imposed by the state and Pritzker.
“This is getting old,” Huffman said. “We were originally told two weeks back in March. I don’t see an end game. What if there’s not a vaccine? … We don’t know. At what point is the curve flattened, and when can I go back to work?”
Huffman said it makes no sense that bars have to close early.
“What makes it worse after 11 p.m., other than nothing? There’s fewer people out at those hours,” he said. “People have been in [our bar], and we’ve had no issues. We don’t have any [music] shows, which is a bummer.
“We’re working on building an outdoor stage right now. I’m allowed to be open with 50% capacity. That shuts down music completely for us, and that’s what we do. We’re at 50%, and it’s not 50% for me. We can’t have a large enough crowd to pay for a band.”
BRADLEY — The federal criminal indictment of former Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency Executive Director Richard Simms is not enough to satisfy Bradley village leadership.
At Monday’s Bradley Village Board meeting, finance director Rob Romo was given the OK by trustees to begin interviewing potential accounting firms which could complete a “forensic” accounting of the troubled agency, perhaps going back as far as 15 years.
The board is expected to approve a resolution authorizing the hiring of an accounting firm at its Sept. 14 village meeting. The matter will then be brought to the seven-member KRMA board at its Sept. 15 meeting.
“I am not going to ask for a forensic audit. We demand a forensic audit,” Roma said after the board meeting. Romo said if the KRMA board fails to respond to his demand, the village board will begin pursuit of legal action against Kankakee. He said this legal action would seek to “break up the monopoly they have on this board.
Romo is referring to the fact that Kankakee controls four of the seven KRMA board seats, basically granting the city controlling interest of the organization. Other board votes come from Bradley, Bourbonnais and Aroma Park.
“There are a lot of questionable practices which need to be looked into,” Romo said. “We need to put pressure on Kankakee.”
The four Kankakee board members are Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, who serves as the board president; city comptroller Elizabeth Kubal; 7th Ward Alderman Carl Brown; and Limestone resident Marc Wakat. Other board members are Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore, Aroma Park Mayor Brian Stump and Romo.
KRMA has been placed under a cloud of suspicion following the investigation and indictment of Simms on charges of defrauding KRMA and the city of Kankakee’s Environmental Services Utility of more than $2 million between 2014 and 2018.
Romo laid out five areas of concerns he has regarding KRMA and Kankakee.
His issues are: Composition of the KRMA board, pilot fees access by Kankakee, KRMA’s financial practices, sewer plant capacity and flow, and laboratory testing fees.
The audit and legal counsel, he said, are needed to “examine the legality of the governance of the current administration, operation and fiscal accounting practices of KRMA. Even after all the scandals and alleged corruption, KRMA’s Board of Directors has done little to mitigate risk at KRMA, he said.
“Moreover, the KRMA Board of Directors stated that they have done and will continue to do a fine job in managing KRMA,” he said.
Romo concluded that with Kankakee controlling the board majority, nothing with change at KRMA unless Bradley takes these initiatives.
BOURBONNAIS — Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 reported a positive COVID-19 case within the district Monday and identified 13 close-contact individuals who will be asked to quarantine for two weeks.
Superintendent Adam Ehrman said the district was informed Monday morning that a member of the school district community has tested positive for COVID-19.
In the interest of protecting this person’s privacy, he declined to identify whether this individual was a student or staff member.
He said the district “rapidly worked” with the Kankakee County Health Department on Monday to fulfill its contact-tracing process.
The district also engaged in its own process to identify and notify all close-contact individuals resulting from the positive case, including looking at classroom and bus seating charts.
The CDC defines close contact as having been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more starting two days before illness onset or two days before the positive test if asymptomatic.
The district identified 13 close-contact individuals who will need to isolate from the in-person learning process, Ehrman said. Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines specify that close-contact individuals should quarantine for 14 days.
Students and teachers asked to quarantine would be able to continue remote learning from home if they are not feeling ill. However, certain kinds of staff members such as custodians and bus drivers would not be able to work while quarantined, Ehrman noted.
The last time the positive-testing person was in a school building while contagious was Thursday, according to a letter sent to district families and community members.
All spaces frequented by the positive-testing person will be sanitized and deep cleaned according to CDC and IDPH recommendations. Closure of a school building is not required due to a positive case, the letter continued.
“While we all may recognize that positive cases are unavoidable in this day and age, today was still a jolt to the system for some people,” Ehrman said. “Please know that we put procedural systems in place to handle this situation in a calm and collective manner.”
Ehrman also said the district is communicating as much as possible about confirmed cases to keep everyone informed at this time. In the future, district-wide announcements might not be issued for every individual case, he said.
“Thank you to everyone for your patience, grace and a willingness to work together,” Ehrman said. “The only way we can all get through this crisis is if we do so together.”
The first day of school for Bourbonnais Elementary students was Wednesday of last week.
Students are attending school in-person for half days and completing some remote learning after school, with seventh- and eighth-graders alternating days of in-person attendance.
As of Aug. 14, about 574 students, close to 24 percent of the district, had signed up for the completely remote-learning option.