Pritzker hits Metro East with new restrictions on businesses

Pritzker hits Metro East with new restrictions on businesses

Some activities allowed under the state’s Phase 4 reopening plan have been pulled back.

Metro East bars and restaurants starting Aug. 18 must close at 11 p.m. each night, require reservations and eliminate standing as Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposes new restrictions because COVID-19 cases passed the 8% positivity threshold.

And Pritzker has new authority to pursue criminal penalties against business owners who do not enforce his mask mandate.

The Metro East region has been placed under Tier 1 restrictions, which dials back capacities at businesses and prohibits some activities.

Besides the 11 p.m. closing times, reservation mandate and standing ban, bar patrons will no longer be able to sit at the bar. For indoor seating, group sizes cannot exceed six. Dancing is also now prohibited at indoor establishments.

Social functions will also have limitations. Group sizes cannot exceed 25 people or 25% of the venue’s capacity. Reception halls must close, party buses can no longer operate and gaming and casino locations must close at 11 p.m. and limit their capacity to 25%.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will now monitor the 14-day positivity rate in Madison, Bond, St. Clair, Clinton, Washington, Monroe and Randolph counties to determine the next steps. In order for these restrictions to be lifted, the positivity rate must average less than 6.5% over 14 days. The restrictions will stay in place if the 14-day rate averages between 6.5% and 8%, but new restrictions, including business closures, will be enacted should it be at or above an 8% average over 14 days.

The Metro East region has seen a daily positivity rate over 8% since Aug. 10. Pritzker and IDPH set 8% as the level in which restrictions will be needed to reverse the rising trend. The most recent data for Aug. 14 shows the region with a quickly rising positivity rate that was at 8.9%. In comparison, Illinois’ positivity rate was 4.64% while Chicago was at 5%.

The restrictions are coming as Pritzker gained new authority Aug. 11 to extract criminal fines from business owners who do not enforce his mask mandate. Business owners will be warned, then patrons will be asked to leave and then criminal fines of up to $2,500 can be imposed if the owners to not make patrons wear masks. State lawmakers with oversight of the rule came up with six votes against it, but needed eight votes to override it.

Adding more restrictions could be devastating for businesses that are already suffering and have been trying to get back on their feet after months of first being closed and then being allowed to operate with limited capacities.

“They should probably consider some kind of tax deferment or reduction soon to help small businesses,” said Jarrod Burgess, a locksmith from O’Fallon. “Reopening the small business industry would probably help a lot.  The long-term effect of keeping it closed could be a lot worse than what we’re seeing now.”

Rather than a tax break, more than 100,000 small businesses in Illinois are staring down the possibility of seeing taxes rise up to 47% should Pritzker convince voters Nov. 3 to pass his “fair tax.” Pritzker is spending $56.5 million of his own money on the campaign for the tax.

Illinois’ small businesses are responsible for 60% of the state’s job creation. With so many small businesses closing because of the pandemic, a tax increase on them would force more closures and leave more Illinoisans without a job.

While the state’s residents must do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19, Pritzker must also do his part to keep the state’s economy afloat and prevent more business closures. Hitting business owners with a tax increase during a recession from a global pandemic will only add to the problems Illinois faces.

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