Our state and nation were forever altered in March as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across America. As this tragedy began to unfold, we came together as a nation, with everyone doing their parts to slow the spread and flatten the curve of this devastating virus. By summer, we'd done just that, and slowly Illinois was able to partially reopen with safety precautions in place.
For our state's restaurants, this reopening was a vital lifeline. While their survival, after months of closures and reduced service, was in no way guaranteed â€“ these summer months gave them a fighting chance. Now, as these restaurants face a new round of closures, and as those who work at these establishments risk losing their job, several important questions must be asked.
Where is the data?
Contact tracing is one of the oldest and most reliable tools public health officials have to combat infectious diseases. It is a point the Governor has made over and over and over again this spring. On May 1, the Governor spoke of plans to hire an "army of contact tracers," a program for which the General Assembly soon appropriated $800 million.
What's the status of this program? Great question. Despite the Administration promising transparency about this data to legislators from both sides of the aisle, we still haven't seen data collected through contact tracing. Why does that matter? Because if we don't know where the virus is spreading, we can't possibly hope to stop it.
The Mayor of Chicago, who disagrees with the Administration's mitigations, said this week that contact tracers in Chicago had found that two-thirds of people testing positive in the city were contracting the virus at home or in another non-public setting. There's no reason to believe this would be different downstate. If this is true, we are unnecessarily shutting down restaurants, many of whom will not survive this fall and winter. Governor â€“ show us the contact tracing.
And why do the goalposts keep moving?
When the Governor announced his five-phase Restore Illinois plan, restaurants were allowed to operate with a 50 percent capacity threshold in Phase Four. When he announced his mitigation plans, Tier-One â€“ the first step in mitigation, required restaurants to reduce indoor capacity to 25 percent, while Tier-Two would close indoor dining. When it came time to implement these mitigations, he completely skipped Tier-One. Why? What science was the basis of his decision?
The vast majority of restaurants in Illinois have diligently worked to provide a safe and healthy environment to their patrons. They've spaced out seating, and required patrons and staff to wear masks. They've adapted to survive, and now they're being told, without any transparency about the science to back up the decisions, that they're the reason mitigation measures are necessary.
What's the answer? Transparency. We need public hearings. I'm calling for the Illinois Senate to hold a hearing and invite staff from the Governor's office to come before legislators to share the data they are using when implementing these mitigation measures.
Sam Toia, the president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, has warned that 40 percent of restaurants could close for good in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are your local cafés, a favorite BBQ joint, or the Mom-and-Pop family restaurant down the street.
These are people's lives and livelihoods. If the state is going to close these restaurants again, if it's going to take away their fighting chance to survive â€“ the least the state can do is be transparent about why.