Jo Daviess County restaurants defying state dining restrictions tied to pandemic

Anna Dunlop (left) and Devin Foley prepare orders at Cajun Jack's Bar & Grill in Elizabeth, Ill., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

GALENA, Ill. — On Thursday, Cajun Jack’s Bar & Grill’s inside dining area again was open for business.

The restaurant served up its distinctive fare to customers and hosted its weekly shrimp boil. In advertising the latter, the business’ Facebook page stated, “Call to carry out or eat here with us!”

The Elizabeth eatery is among many in Jo Daviess County that continue to serve customers inside — a violation of restrictions implemented early last month by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

Jacky Jacobs, the owner of Cajun Jack’s, said she decided to remain open as usual after she discussed the restrictions with the leaders of other local restaurants.

“If we don’t open to our customers, I’m worried we’re not going to make it,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.”

Calls seeking comment placed to other establishments ignoring the orders were not returned.

On Thursday, Illinois public health officials reported 10,959 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a second consecutive day of near-record deaths.

The 192 fatalities from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, matched the toll from May 13 at the height of the initial wave of the disease in Illinois. That total is second only to the 238 reported Wednesday. Illinois has now reported 12,830 deaths among 759,562 coronavirus infections.

Climbing case counts and positivity rates has prompted Pritzker to institute the restrictions aimed not only at restaurants and bars but other businesses and gathering places.

Despite restrictions from the state prohibiting indoor dining, many restaurants throughout Jo Daviess County have remained open.

“We’ve got mixed compliance with the mitigation,” said County Public Health Administrator Sandra Schleicher. “We know there are businesses out there that are continuing indoor dining.”

Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said city officials also have received reports of restaurants remaining open. Two weeks ago, he said, 10 restaurants were observed offering indoor dining.

“It’s a challenging issue,” he said. “Even if we see restaurants that are open, it’s not a local enforcement responsibility.”

East Dubuque Mayor Kirk VanOstrand said many restaurants in his community also remain open, and the city has taken the approach of not trying to enforce the governor’s restrictions.

“These people just want to stay in business,” he said. “Our community needs to have these people staying in business. We’re not telling anybody that they have to shut down.”

VanOstrand said he spoke with County State’s Attorney John Hay on the matter, who reportedly informed him that local law enforcement was not liable to enforce the state-imposed restrictions.

Hay did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

Attempts have been made by officials to convince local restaurants to remain closed.

Moran said police officers have entered Galena restaurants on the weekend to inform them they are violating state restrictions.

Schleicher said health department staff have reached out to individual businesses violating the order to educate them on the potential threat that restaurants pose in spreading COVID-19. However, she added that most restaurants have not changed course.

“It’s not working well since we still have businesses that are not complying,” Schleicher said. “Usually, we get an ‘OK, thank you. Talk to you later.’ And that’s it.”

Schleicher stressed that indoor dining can spread COVID-19. She said she is concerned that the holiday season could bring another resurgence of cases in Jo Daviess County.

“With the holidays, there are going to be more people wanting to go out,” she said. “Hopefully, the residents themselves can make the decision to not do that.”

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