Springfield mayor responds to public health decision re: indoor dining

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An empty restaurant (Nexstar, file)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A day after Sangamon County public health officials announced they would defy state restrictions on indoor dining, Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder issued a statement urging restaurants and bars to continue operating as take-out only establishments until January 12.

County Public Health Department officials on Wednesday said they’d lift the Tier 3 restrictions on indoor dining on January 3.

“The move to open on January 3 is reminiscent of this past Halloween,” Langfedler wrote in a statement. “The City had a desire to stay open for two weeks after October 31, but SCDPH put a 12% mitigation factor in place and did a forced shutdown after only four days of announcing indoor restaurant capacity could be maintained at 25%. This January 3 opening by SCDPH has now come with an 8% mitigation factor, and this time we actually have a vaccine. The equation and timeline that was presented yesterday is not one for success.”

In a previous press conference, Gov. JB Pritzker said he would not move any regions back into Tier 2 mitigations until after the potential for a holiday surge passes — even so, Tier 2 doesn’t allow for indoor dining.

This story will be updated with further information. In the meantime, you can read the mayor’s full statement below.

“First and foremost, as we come to the end of 2020, I ask for everyone’s continued compliance of limiting gatherings with people outside your immediate household and wearing masks while in public. It has been a trying year, but now is not the time to let our guard down.

I received the announcement from Sangamon County Department of Public Health (SCDPH) regarding their changes to the mitigation efforts late yesterday afternoon. This outline also included SCDPH’s plan for closing bars and restaurants again if metrics are not maintained. It has always been the intent of the City of Springfield that when we open our restaurants in a thoughtful stair-step approach, the opening would be permanent and our small businesses would not yet again face closure, causing the yo-yo effect of opening and closing. However, with only six days since Christmas and New Year’s Eve tonight, our focus is to insure our numbers stay low and our area schools, including School District 186, can reopen as planned on January 12.

After serious deliberation, I strongly encourage restaurants to maintain takeout service until January 12. This way we can finally have data to strongly contest any spike in the numbers were not attributed to your establishments. However, with this opening so close to two events that cause gatherings, it will be the restaurants that may yet again be negatively impacted because of a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases. The move to open on January 3 is reminiscent of this past Halloween. The City had a desire to stay open for two weeks after October 31, but SCDPH put a 12% mitigation factor in place and did a forced shutdown after only four days of announcing indoor restaurant capacity could be maintained at 25%. This January 3opening by SCDPH has now come with an 8% mitigation factor, and this time we actually have a vaccine. The equation and timeline that was presented yesterday is not one for success.

I always felt strongly restaurants should be separated out from bars and open sooner. This is something the City could not previously change because SCDPH controls food licenses. Even though I do not agree with the January 3opening, I will support any restaurant who chooses to open under SCDPH’s guidance. However, as Liquor Commissioner, the City is not granting authority for bars that do not operate a commercial kitchen within the corporate limits of the City of Springfield to be open for indoor bar service at this time. Bars that do not serve food, yet choose to operate against this order, will jeopardize their liquor license. These locations have already been notified through the City’s Business Licensing Office if opening early is permissible. Staggering these opening dates will finally give us the data to show the impact that each industry has on COVID-19 case numbers.

We also advise any restaurant or bar who received State of Illinois grants to contact the agency of service. The agreement to accept these monies include following the State of Illinois mitigation standards. SCDPH’s January 3opening does not follow these policies and may require you to forfeit these funds if you choose to reopen early.

We have made great strides with decreasing our case numbers and hospitalizations, one of the best in the state. We feel this is directly attributed to people complying with the City’s mask mandate and our enforcement efforts. This mask ordinance is still in place and proper protocols must be followed to avoid individual and business fines.

I also implore all parents with school-age children to please be cautious in their choices in the next 10 days to insure our kids can return to in-person and/or hybrid learning in January. School District 186 has not had in-person instruction in 10 months. Now is not the time to jeopardize this opportunity and we must put at the forefront the betterment of our children and the health of our community.  

The decisions I make as Mayor are not always easy, nor popular. However, I will always take into consideration what is best for Springfield and our community. Further information about the City of Springfield reopening will be released in the coming days.”

-Mayor Jim Langfelder

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