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GALENA–The Jo Daviess County Health Department sent shock waves across the county on Monday, Oct. 5 as businesses received letters of non-compliance.
The non-compliance stems from the Illinois Department of Public Health’s action to enact mitigation measures on the public health region that includes Jo Daviess County as the region saw COVID positivity rates of 8 percent or higher on the seven-day rolling average for three consecutive days.
The first public notification that this was occurring came from JJ & Freddie’s in Stockton, which posted on Facebook that they received a call from the Jo Daviess County Health Department threatening their business with a Class A misdemeanor and a loss of their food license as well as two food managers’ certifications if they were to allow indoor dining. That phone call forced the business to close that evening, as well as reevaluating the business’ options under the new regulations.
Other businesses in the county also received a call or a letter stating the same thing.
The letter states, “For the safety of your patrons, your staff, and our community, it is imperative that you take the necessary steps to address non-compliance with state guidelines immediately. Such measures include:
•Ensuring compliance with face covering requirements within your facility;
•Ensuring no indoor dining within your facility;
•Notifying employees and customers/patrons of the need to comply with face covering;
•OTHER: All tables need to be 6 ft apart, no parties/ groups larger than 10 at a table and all bars and restaurants need to close by 11 p.m.
“Should we receive additional reports of non-compliance, further action may be taken. Such action may include an order to disperse patrons and employees from the premises until compliance can be achieved. If compliance is not achieved through an order to disperse, further action may include charges of a Class A misdemeanor pursuant to 20 ILCS 2305/8.1 against the violating business, facility, service or organization.”
The letter is from Beth Marcure, environmental health sanitarian, and Ashlee Mowell, environmental health inspector.
County board chair Scott Toot said he had no knowledge of this happening and didn’t support the measure. He said the county board’s only control over the health department is the selection of board of health members.
“I didn’t know they were going to do this,” said Toot. “It would be nice if we would be made aware so that the first place I saw it wasn’t on Facebook.”
Jo Daviess County State’s Attorney John Hay was also not informed about the letter.
“I was not aware that letters were sent out until after the fact,” said Hay. “At this point, I am not in favor of prosecuting businesses for Class A misdemeanors.”
Hay said the current legislation, in his opinion, doesn’t give credence to such penalties and that he would review potential new legislation, but with the state not convening the legislature at this time, that is unlikely.
“I believe we should do everything we can to bring numbers down, but on the same token, I am not going to punish businesses, and I understand the difficulties that they are facing,” said Hay. “It’s a difficult situation everyone is in trying to balance public health and protecting businesses.”
Members of the county board’s executive committee, meeting Tuesday, Oct. 6, also expressed outrage and demanded something be done.
Toot said during the executive meeting that the letter would be addressed soon.
Board of health statement
The board of health released the following statement about the letter:
“On October 3, Jo Daviess County as part of Region 1 of the state of Illinois entered tiered mitigation due to the region’s Covid-19 positivity rate increases.
“Recently notices and phone calls from the Health Department were distributed and relayed to some businesses throughout the county stating that it was a notice of non-compliance. The notice was intended to assist businesses in helping them understand the guidelines of state mitigation requirements. The heading on the notice should have read “Mitigation Requirements” and was meant to be a document that businesses could reference to understand what requirements they needed to follow while we are in this mitigation stage of Covid-19 for our region.
“The Jo Daviess County Board of Health deeply regrets any misunderstanding this has caused businesses in Jo Daviess County. Our aspiration is to work with businesses during these challenging times while promoting safety mitigation requirements to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in our county.”