Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis urged residents to comply with the governor’s recent mitigation efforts to control the increase in COVID-19 positive cases.
Bevis spoke Wednesday at the executive committee meeting of the Kankakee County Board in the county building.
“I want to say thank you to everybody for what they have been doing, and we’re asking for your support to continue to do it for another two weeks, for these 14 days,” Bevis said. “Will County is pledging their support to do so. They want to get their numbers back in the black.
“If they do what they need to do and our county, for whatever reasons if people don’t agree and are going to defy the orders and then our numbers go up, then all we’ve done is flipped-flopped the thought of whose fault it is. Will County in two weeks could have the numbers they need to have, and our numbers have gone up. And as result, the governor will make more stringent mitigation factors for us.
“I don’t want that. You don’t want that. I know our community doesn’t want that.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Tuesday that as of Wednesday, bars and restaurants in this two-county region — known as Region 7 (Kankakee and Will counties) 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.
The enforcement of following the mitigation guidelines has fallen on the health department.
“The mission statement for the health department is to promote, protect and monitor the health of all the citizens of Kankakee County,” Bevis said. “Our No. 1 priority is going to be monitoring the health, and we do that through the contact tracing, and we’ve been doing that from Day One. The second thing is that we’re going to do is promote working with the community partners, and we’ve been doing that from Day One with the healthy business alliance. ... The third thing is protecting the health of the public.”
Bevis said the governor recently created a law within the communicable disease section where he took a “may” and made it a “shall” for health departments and law enforcement to enforce complaints on masking and gathering situations. He said there’s a process once a formal complaint gets made to the health department, it will conduct an investigation.
“If the business is found to be complying, they will receive a notice for their records that the investigation was completed and that they’re complying, we go on and everyone has a great day,” he said. “If the business is not in compliance, the ruling allows us the flexibility to give them a warning in the form of a written notice that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Here’s what you need to be doing to be complying, and we will give you a time frame in which to make those corrections.”
Bevis said it’s similar to the nuisance compliance that was created in 1985.
“If they don’t voluntarily comply with that notice, then another inspection will take place. They will be given a written warning, possibly asking them to cease and desist their business, possibly asking them to reduce the number of people within the building. If they continue to not comply, they could receive a Class A misdemeanor and be subject to a fine.
“That’s the process. I’ve worked with Nancy Nicholson and Jim Rowe with the State’s Attorney’s office. This is what this law was changed to, two weeks ago. This is what health departments are being asked to do.”
Bevis said he has a staff of just four environmental health inspectors to investigate 650 licensed food facilities. He would rather they be making food inspections to ensure the food is safe to eat.
“If we’re going to be asked to do this [mitigation enforcement], I can’t tell you if we’re going to five complaints or 50 complaints,” Bevis said. “We’re being told we have to investigate them.”