Cities going after bars that defy shutdown orders

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(The Center Square) – Local governments are enforcing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s restrictions prohibiting indoor service, including by going after bar owners who don’t follow the rules.

Five Bloomington liquor license holders have agreed to pay $400 in fines to the city government for violating the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. One bar, Joe’s Pub, plans to fight the is unwilling to accept the penalty and will appeal to the liquor commission.

Anthony Wargo, owner of Joe’s Pub, said the business never faltered from state mitigations, requiring employees to wear masks, allowing for social distancing, and working to keep the business sanitary.

“We did our part. We continue to do out part,” Wargo said during an initial appearance before the liquor commission.

Pritzker has said that bars are a source of spread for the coronavirus.

“Because the terrible truth is that getting together with people in this way is exactly how the virus spreads,” Pritzker said.

Despite the threat of a fine, some bars continue to stay open. Sebastian’s Ale and Whiskey House in Lombard is one of them. Jake Flick, a longtime bartender, said staying open is a matter of survival.

“We have to work. We have families and we have to be able to provide,” Flick said. “We have bills we have to pay and we are not getting the support needed to be able to do it anymore.”

St. Clair County health officials are taking a different approach to bars that continue to offer indoor service. Recently, Executive Director Barb Hohlt stripped away the food licenses of some establishments, and said there is more to come.

Some communities have been turning a blind eye to businesses that have stayed open. Mayors in East Peoria and Morton have gone on record saying they will not enforce the restrictions. The city of Geneva recently voted down a proposal which would have levied fines against bars that serve customers indoors.

The Illinois Department of Public Health recently released a report on the rates of COVID-19 exposure throughout the state and where exposure is more prominent. Since July 1, bars were thirteenth on the list.

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