CHAMPAIGN — Restaurants and bars throughout Champaign County that are ignoring the state’s prohibition on indoor service will soon get a written warning about what happens next if they don’t comply.
On the line for scofflaws are the loss of their food permits, liquor licenses and gambling licenses.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is sending letters to violators to give them a warning and chance to comply on their own, according to Administrator Julie Pryde.
“We can suspend food permits for restaurants and bars that are still having indoor service. The food permit is directly connected to the liquor licenses, and those are connected to the gaming licenses,” she said.
First to receive the letters will be about 25 businesses still serving indoors or otherwise violating current state restrictions, she said.
Some have openly declared they won’t comply.
One of the most recent is Manzella’s Italian Patio in Champaign, which posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that it would reopen its dining rooms at 5 p.m. Monday “after lengthy discussions with family and staff.”
The restaurant’s general manager, Mary Manzella, said Thursday she still hopes to open for indoor dining, though she is consulting with an attorney about that.
The warning letters from the health district will go out as statewide mitigation restrictions begin today to try to rein in a pandemic that’s become a runaway train.
In Champaign County alone, there have been four more COVID-19 deaths since Wednesday and 1,362 new cases added since Sunday.
That level of spread, plus hospitals filling up, is dangerous, according to Pryde.
“We have to do things safely, and unfortunately, we are in a bad place right now,” she said.
Locally, restaurants and bars were already prohibited from serving people indoors since the state imposed COVID-19 mitigation restrictions beginning Nov. 2 in the 21-county region that includes Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties.
No indoor service continues, along with new capacity limits for retailers and other restrictions now being required statewide.
Pryde said most restaurants and bars in Champaign County have been complying with the state guidance, and some of those following the guidance have become agitated about those that aren’t.
Punishment isn’t the goal, Pryde said. Safety is.
“We are clearly in a very concerning place in the county, the state and the country,” she said. “The next couple of months are going to be very hard. CUPHD as much as anyone wants to see our small businesses succeed, and that is why we, the cities, the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., the Chamber of Commerce and others have been working so hard to provide guidance and promotion of outdoor dining, takeout and delivery.
“It is unsafe at this time to allow indoor dining and activities.”
Among the new statewide restrictions will be a 25 percent capacity limit for retailers, including big-box stores selling groceries and pharmacies.
Other grocery stores will be permitted to continue with a 50 percent capacity limit.
Market Place Mall General Manager Dennis Robertson said the mall will use automated counters already being used at all entrances to make sure the mall doesn’t exceed the 25 percent capacity limit.
If the number of people entering the mall should reach that limit, he said, plans are to place employees at entrances to allow people to enter as others leave — for example, one out, one in.
The 25 percent limit inside each individual store will be up to the individual retailers to enforce, Robertson said.
Gerry Kettler, a spokesman for Niemann Foods, which operates local County Market grocery stores, said it has already been monitoring the number of people inside, partly by the number of checkouts at the registers and carts in use, and that will continue.