SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took an unprecedented step Sunday to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic by ordering bars and restaurants in the state closed to the public starting on Tuesday, March 17, which is both St. Patrick’s Day and Illinois’ Primary Election Day.
Establishments could remain open to drive-thru and delivery service, but in-store dining were to be closed from the end of business on Monday through March 30.
Schools will continue to provide meals to children, although classes in both public and private K-12 schools have been cancelled during that same period.
“I know how difficult this will be on small businesses around the state,” Pritzker said during his daily news briefing Sunday in Chicago. “This is another hard step. But we must do everything that we can to safeguard the health and safety of the citizens of the state of Illinois. And that requires urgent action.”
Bar and restaurant owners in Shelbyville responded to the news with a spirit of contributing to the public good.
Mark Shanks, owner of Monical’s Pizza in Shelbyville, said the restaurant would be open for pick-up and delivery beginning Tuesday.
“We have online ordering and we are encouraging customers to use our app to order and then pick-up or delivery,” he said. “We are taking extra precautions with the seriousness of the issue. We are requiring our delivery drivers to wash after every delivery. We are encouraging, but not requiring people to pay online to minimize cash transactions. Some do not have that capability.
“Yes, it is an inconvenience for us and our customers, but we want to do everything we can to diminish the spread of the virus and we will be in full compliance to help. We are not having any staff cuts. Everyone is reporting to work. It’s a little scary and this is uncharted waters for everyone. We hope this helps.”
Sunday’s actions were just the latest in a series of measures Pritzker has taken that, together, amount to what may be the broadest-scale shutdown of social activity in modern memory in Illinois, even surpassing the security measures taken in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But the actions also are in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials who say “social distancing” is one of the most effective ways of controlling the spread of the virus, for which there is not yet an effective vaccine.
The actions also came as the state reported cases in 13 counties. Five additional counties are now reporting cases – Champaign, Clinton, Sangamon, Whiteside, and Winnebago. Other locations with cases include Chicago and Cook, Cumberland, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, St. Clair, and Woodford counties.
Illinois Department of Public Health notified Sarah Bush Lincoln Friday evening that a person who was tested for COVID-19 in the ER was positive for the virus, according to the hospital’s public relations director, Patty Peterson. Peterson said Saturday that ER staff knew the patient was arriving.
“The person was met in the parking lot, provided personal protective equipment and brought in through a back entrance to avoid contact with people in the ER reception area,” Peterson said, adding the person went home afterward and is being self-quarantined.
In addition to ordering bars and restaurants to close to the public, Pritzker also directed state agencies to scale down operations while maintaining core functions and essential services. That means select employees will continue to report to work while others will either work remotely or remain at home, on call. All state employees will continue to be paid during the work stoppage, the administration said.
Sunday’s briefing capped a weekend in which Pritzker engaged in a high-profile battle with the White House over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, a battle that began when hundreds of international travelers returning to the United States were bottlenecked Saturday night at the Customs and Border Control checkpoint at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
In a tweet directed specifically at the Trump administration, Pritzker lashed out.
“The crowds & lines O’Hare are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately,” he tweeted. “@realDonaldTrump @VP since this is the only communication medium you pay attention to — you need to do something NOW. These crowds are waiting to get through customs which is under federal jurisdiction.”
Speaking Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Pritzker accused the federal government of falling down on the job and leaving states to their own devices in responding to the pandemic.
“We are the ones who’ve had to provide the leadership because the federal government just has fallen down on this,” he said. “So, they didn’t advise us to shut down major events, sporting events, parades; we made those decisions on our own. They are not the ones that advised us to close schools; we made those decisions on our own. So, we are on our own out here. I wish we had leadership from Washington, we are not getting it.”
Illinois’ U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, also sounded off Sunday about the situation at O’Hare and other major airports in a letter to Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Not only do these extensive wait times cause issues for the airport and its travelers, but given the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it increases the risk for the City of Chicago and all who pass through it, as it contradicts current public health guidelines for masses of people to be in such close proximity to one another at this time,” Durbin and Duckworth wrote. “We request that you expedite the process of providing guidelines and the necessary resources, including staff and any required screening apparatus and processes, to these 13 airports to ensure their operations are not disrupted and that public health is preserved.”
By Sunday afternoon, Pritzker began downplaying his tensions with the White House, saying he had been assured personally by Vice President Mike Pence that Customs and Border Patrol would double its staff at O’Hare.
“I don’t usually get heated on Twitter, and I always try to work through official channels when possible,” Pritzker said during the briefing. “But when I saw hundreds of people crammed together for many hours at O’Hare, in exactly the conditions I have been warning about for days, I was furious.”
Elsewhere in the Shelbyville area, a spokesman for the Longbranch Grill said that starting Tuesday, they will be open at their regular hours for carry-out or curbside service, for those who do not want to come in and get their food. They accept checks and credit/debit cards. At this time, they do not have delivery, but she said that they are kind of in “unchartered territory.”
Drew Bosgraaf of Druby’s said that they will also have their drive-through, delivery and curbside pick-up service. The hours will remain the same 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
“It’s kinda weird that we won’t have customers inside,” Bosgraaf said. “It’s odd stuff all around. We are going to make the best of it and luckily we have a drive-through.”
Bosgraaf said they will still employ the same staff as always.
Sharon Altmann, the owner of the Sit N Sip, a bar and grill, said the closure will have a lasting impact on her business.
“No, I’m not happy about it,” Altmann said. “My bar is not set up for curb service and we do not have enough carry-out to warrant staying open. So, after 2 p.m. today we will not be open. We are not very happy and I feel sorry for my employees.
“I will be sitting at home,” she added. “I am high risk. I am 68 and have diabetes, so I won’t go anywhere. I’m concerned about the school kids and especially the seniors and how this will affect their prom and graduation.”
A Shelbyville Dairy Queen spokeswoman said: “We will run the drive through and we are going to implement a curbside service. You can call in your order and that will save time, because we expect the drive-through to be very busy. We will give them a parking spot #1 to park in and we will bring it out to them. We will staff the same number of employees as always, maybe even more than normal to have people to man the phone.”
A spokeswoman at Lisa’s Restaurant in Shelbyville said: “We will have curbside service, you can call in your order and I will run it out to you. But this is really going to hurt us. At my restaurant its the social aspect of it. A lot of them are older guys who live alone and don’t eat at home. Some of the guys took the number yesterday, so they can call and order. I’m not happy about it. You should have heard me yesterday, when I found out about it.”