CHAMPAIGN — A week ago, Chancellor Robert Jones asked University of Illinois students to participate only in essential activities until Feb. 8 out of concern for the more contagious variants of COVID-19.
Drinking at Campustown bars probably wasn’t an essential activity Jones had in mind.
On Tuesday, Jones sent another mass email with “a personal request for care and vigilance” after pictures circulated this past weekend of long lines outside Campustown bars.
Jones reminded students that the UI’s COVID-19 policies and rules are still being enforced.
“We will take enforcement seriously. But the honest truth is that the safety and health of this community depends on the decisions each of us makes on a daily basis,” Jones wrote. “When we choose to wear masks, even when we’re not in a campus facility. When we follow our required weekly COVID testing schedule. When we decide to stay home rather than attend a party or stand in a crowded line — even though we just want to pretend the world is ‘normal’ again, even if it’s just for an hour or two.”
Champaign-Urbana Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said staff members were sent out after receiving several emails.
“Inside of the bar, apparently people were seated and spaced as required,” Pryde said.
But she said the situation outside could be better.
“The lines do need to be spaced out more, and people should be wearing masks,” Pryde said.
The sidewalks fall under the city of Champaign’s jurisdiction, she said.
Mayor Deb Feinen, who also serves as the city’s liquor commissioner, encouraged people standing in line to keep their distance.
“Making sure that people are remaining socially distanced, that they’re wearing their masks and being vigilant while they wait in line is important,” she said.
But she said in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, which Region 6 entered last week, bars are allowed to be open.
“The most important piece is what is going on inside the establishment,” Feinen said. “As I understand it and from what I heard anecdotally, there was adequate spacing and the rules were being followed inside the establishment.”
“What was causing the lines was the fact that the establishment was complying inside and not just letting everyone in,” she added.
The bar’s owner, Scott Cochrane, did not return a request for comment.
In the fall, leaders from the city, university and health district met regularly to talk about campus enforcement issues, Feinen said.
“We are reconvening that, so we will all be working together on enforcement issues,” she said.
Feinen also noted that the emergency orders issued in the fall remain in place.
That means no one under 21 is allowed into Campustown bars unless they’re eating a meal before 9 p.m.
Customers must also be seated unless ordering food or using the restroom.
“All of those orders remain in place, and we will continue to vigilantly monitor what’s going on,” Feinen said.
She also said that “we will have to find ways to partner with the businesses,” suggesting sidewalk markings 6 feet apart, as was done in the fall.
While it would be too early to see a spike from this weekend, so far, the UI hasn’t seen as large a rise in cases as it did after students returned in the fall.
On Monday, 26 students and staff tested positive.
To access campus buildings, the UI required students to test negative twice before the semester began Monday.
Jones also reminded students Tuesday to keep testing or face consequences.
“Students who are out of compliance may also lose access to university Wi-Fi, Zoom, Compass and other technologies,” he wrote.
And Jones recalled the “Open Hearts” memorial service he attended last week at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, where 106 hearts were placed to represent each life lost to COVID-19 in Champaign County.
“COVID-19 is not merely a nuisance or an inconvenience. These dashboards with those numbers to which we have grown so hardened are not statistics to be debated and analyzed,” Jones said. “These are human lives. Every infection. Every hospitalization. Every death.”