As positivity rate climbs, Jo Daviess County officials, business owners worry about potential restrictions

People enjoy the outdoor seating outside bars and restaurants on South Main Street in Galena, Ill., in May.  PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

ELIZABETH, Ill. — When Jacky Jacobs reopened Cajun Jack’s Bar & Grill in Elizabeth in May, it took a while before the business returned to its normal routine while implementing new safety measures.

Jacobs expanded the outdoor patio, pushed the inside tables 6 feet apart and purchased gallons of sanitizers.

But rising COVID-19 positivity rates in the region of the state that includes Jo Daviess County soon could force Jacobs and other business owners like her to adjust yet again.

“It is for sure rough,” she said. “We already had it hard enough with what we are having to deal with.”

The most recent data from the Illinois Department of Public Health shows that, as of Monday, the nine-county region that included Jo Daviess County had a seven-day positivity average of 7.7%, and that rate had increased for six straight days. If the region reaches at least 8% for three consecutive days, state-ordered restrictions will be imposed.

Jo Daviess County Public Health Administrator Sandra Schleicher said those measures will include restricting gatherings to no more than 25 people, closing all indoor dining at restaurants, and early closures and limited hours for bars and restaurants.

Those restrictions then would be in place until the region records a positivity rate of less than 6.5% for three consecutive days.

“It will probably affect most of the businesses,” Schleicher said.

While the region includes more-populated counties and the much-larger cities of Freeport and Rockford, Schleicher said Jo Daviess County’s positivity rate recently topped 8% as more cases are being reported.

“Unfortunately, our county isn’t showing that much difference than the bigger cities,” she said.

County Board Chairman Scott Toot said it is unfair that a less-populated county like Jo Daviess County could face restrictions even if its positivity rate is lower than the major metros in its region, but he also said that if residents follow recommended health practices, it will lower those rates.

“I wish they would go on a county-by-county basis, but they don’t do that,” he said. “I also wish they would take a look at towns within the county.”

Toot said county board members are putting together a proposed ordinance that, if approved, would include fines of up to $750 per day if residents do not quarantine after being told to do so by the health department.

“We are just trying to educate people,” he said. “My message is: Everyone needs to cooperate with the guidelines.”

Mike Meyer, the owner of The Other Side in East Dubuque, said the past few months have been difficult for his business. If the region hits the threshold that triggers additional restrictions, it could be another significant blow.

“It’s devastating because you have to be under (6.5%) for three consecutive days to get back,” he said. “Most places, it’s taken two to three weeks (to do that). That’s just devastating to us.”