CHAMPAIGN — When Joe’s Brewery reopened Thursday, its customers had to show the Safer Illinois app to verify that they’d tested negative recently for COVID-19.
The bar at 706 S. Fifth St., C, is taking advantage of the testing and technology developed by the University of Illinois to help keep its customers and staff safe.
“It’s a lovely idea,” said Bill Sullivan, who developed the app.
Joe’s had closed down for a week after Chancellor Robert Jones announced two weeks of enhanced enforcement after more COVID-19 cases popped up on campus than anticipated.
But “after considering the trends in positive cases, we have decided to reopen for business,” the bar wrote on social media. “We will continue to evaluate how we can be a productive contributor to the community and University’s efforts against the coronavirus.”
Joe’s had been using the Safer Illinois app before closing for a week, manager Luke Herbert said. The app gives users a building-entry status based on how recently they tested negative and whether they’ve been near someone who tested positive. Students and employees are checked at building entrances to ensure they are allowed in.
While Herbert said “there have been a few challenges” checking the building-entry status in the app, “all in all the amount of testing being performed is pretty incredible and we feel that integrating that frequent testing was the best opportunity to provide the safest socialization setting possible.”
For non-university customers, they’ll need to show proof of a negative test within the past 48 hours, he said.
Joe’s is checking to make sure UI students have Bluetooth and location services turned on for the app, which are required for the exposure notification feature to work.
“Anything to help the tracing seems like something important to do,” Herbert said.
He said students generally haven’t had an issue with having the app checked.
“It’s not a stretch for the students since it’s part of most of their everyday lives now,” he said.Herbert has been in touch with the university’s COVID-19 team, including modeler Nigel Goldenfeld.
Earlier this month, Goldenfeld said the uptick in cases hasn’t been at the Campustown bars, but in about 15 private certified housing buildings and Greek houses.
“You may think, well, this is just Kam’s or Red Lion or Joe’s, or whatever. It’s not true. That’s not what’s happening,” Goldenfeld said. “In fact, if it were happening there it would be in a sense more controlled. I even correspond extensively with the owner of Joe’s Brewery about exactly how we can do this.”He suggested closing down Green Street and providing a way for students to “socialize in open air safely, to avoid what actually has turned out to happen.”
“The main way that this unexpected spread is happening is through private parties in private certified housing and fraternities and not something happening at one of the bars,” Goldenfeld said. “I know the bars have their attendance down by about 50 percent.”
And near campus, Urbana and Champaign have both temporarily restricted bars and restaurants from opening any indoor seating.
Jim Roberts, the director of environmental health for the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said it made sense for bars to use the Safer Illinois app.
“It does make sense to verify status,” he said. “It is one more action to reduce COVID-19 exposure, but it shouldn’t replace face coverings and other safety guidelines.”