Beginning Nov. 20, all regions of Illinois will be under Tier 3 COVID-19 mitigation, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
“This new tier aims to limit gatherings and encourages people to stay home to the greatest extent possible, while permitting some industries to remain open at significantly reduced capacities with proper safety measures in place,” said the IDPH in a statement.
In Forest Park, this means that bowling alleys (there’s one) will be closed. Gyms can no longer offer group fitness classes, and reservations for working out must be made, with only 25 percent capacity allowed and masks worn by everyone at all times.
Funerals can be attended by a maximum of 10 mourners, not including funeral parlor staff.
Big-box stores like Walmart will need to limit capacity, but according to Casey Staheli, senior manager of national media relations for the company, that’s already happening.
“Walmart began limiting capacity in our stores to 20 percent in early April, or lower if mandated by a local government, and that limit has remained in place since then,” Staheli said. “We know from months of metering data in our stores that the vast majority of the time our stores didn’t reach our self-imposed 20% metering capacity. Out of an abundance of caution, we have resumed counting the number of people entering and leaving our stores.”
The most problematic enforcement in town, however, relates to bars and restaurants, which were supposed to close all indoor service on Oct. 28 when Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the region had surpassed COVID-19 related thresholds.
But several restaurants and bars in town have continued to offer indoor service, and so far the village, county and state haven’t stopped businesses refusing to comply with the state guidance.
Mayor Rory Hoskins said on Nov. 19 that the incremental warning system implemented originally is still in effect, with the village first educating the establishments on the state guidelines, then issuing a cease and desist notice, and finally notifying the county of any noncompliance.
That first step, providing the state guidelines to bars and restaurants, is what the village plans to focus on the most, said Hoskins.
“The village’s stance is that we will be very active in the public education piece of the state regulations,” Hoskins said. And it will be the residents and consumers who will ultimately be the ones that force compliance.
But the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) will help, Hoskins said.
In fact, Cook County employees are currently spending two weeks in Forest Park as part of their biannual sanitation inspections, and they will be reinforcing the importance of COVID compliance with local businesses, according to Steve Glinke, director of public health and safety.
“We are coordinating all enforcement measures with the CCDPH,” Glinke said, and the county will be “reeducating people on the new guidelines and investigating complaints.”
Hoskins said enforcement will also come in a round-about way: through consumer choice.
“Residents and consumers know the guidelines and understand why mitigation orders have been issued,” Hoskins said. “The consumers are ultimately going to regulate themselves.” And, theoretically, thereby the businesses as well.
Hoskins talked about the difficulty of coming down hard on businesses in town, both from a legal perspective (revoking a liquor license, for example, is a costly and time-consuming process) and from a broader understanding of the needs of businesses right now. It’s a balancing act between understanding the financial crisis faced by businesses and responding to the governor’s guidance, he said.
“We get calls and emails from residents, but when we’re dealing with a small business person who’s been on Madison Street for over 20 years, that insistence on strict compliance isn’t always realistic,” Hoskins said. He expressed sympathy for the businesses, saying that if you compare revenue from last year at this time to this year, you can see what an impact COVID-related financial difficulties have had.
“We want to preserve the competitive culture of the village while ensuring public safety,” said Hoskins. “We’re not trying to put people out of business but modify the public’s behavior so it’s consistent with the government’s plans.
“Rightly or wrongly, the hospitality industry has felt targeted [since the beginning of COVID],” said Hoskins. “They’re not necessarily being targeted, but since they operate in a business that is susceptible to public health concerns, they’re often subjected to restrictions related to the virus.”