Pritzker closes Metro East restaurant dining rooms, bar interiors, after infection rates stay stubbornly high

Pritzker closes Metro East restaurant dining rooms, bar interiors, after infection rates stay stubbornly high

ST. CLAIR COUNTY — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on Tuesday he was closing Metro East restaurant dining rooms and indoor bars, among other COVID-19 restrictions, after the region tallied another day with a high rate of infection.

The new measures go into effect Wednesday, and represent the first in the St. Louis region to shut down bar and restaurant interiors anew, after area officials gradually began lifting early restrictions last spring.

Pritzker said in a Tuesday news release that the state will monitor positivity rates in the region over the next two weeks to determine how long the restrictions remain in place. 

Restaurant owners are already worried about the consequences.

“It’s going to hurt businesses,” said Gabriel Morales, who owns Tienda El Ranchito in Fairmont City. He can seat 150 people indoors, but just 40 on the patio.

Times have already been hard this summer, Morales said. Some employees quit after he reduced their hours. “I’ve thought about shutting down,” he said. Now he worries customers will cross the Mississippi River to eat in St. Louis.

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St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern urged perseverance.

“We understand that businesses are going to be hurt by this,” Kern said Tuesday. “We shouldn’t be discouraged.”

County residents, he said, just have to keep following health guidelines, such as social distancing and hand washing.

The state and region shut down last spring, as the new coronavirus cases spiked, and officials ordered residents to stay home. In May, St. Louis and St. Louis County began easing restrictions. In late June, Illinois reopened indoor dining at restaurants, with limits on capacity and requirements that tables be spaced 6 feet apart. St. Louis caseloads began climbing again in late June, and by late July, officials began adding back restrictions such as bar curfews and business occupancy limits.

Caseloads increased similarly in the Metro East. In June, Region 4 — Bond, Clinton, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties — had a positivity rate of less than 5%. On Aug. 11 it surpassed 8%, triggering tighter state restrictions. Over the following weeks the number continued to rise, even hitting 10.5% last week.

On Tuesday, Illinois reported a seven-day average of 9.6% as of Saturday.

Keith McGinness, co-owner of the award-winning Cleveland Heath restaurant in Edwardsville, said the new restrictions will make almost two-thirds of its tables unavailable. Socially distanced, the restaurant can fit 11 tables inside. Out on the patio, it only has seven.

“It’s going to obviously create some financial strain,” McGinness said.

Previously, when Cleveland Heath was only offering patio seating and carryout, business was down by about 30%, he said. And relying on patio tables, he added, will make the restaurant’s traffic much more dependent on the weather.

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On Tuesday, St. Clair County reported 85 new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 5,935, and one new death. There are 50 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county, including four on ventilators.

Madison County reported 57 new cases, reaching a total of 4,060, and two new deaths.

An analysis by Chris Prener, an assistant professor of sociology at St. Louis University, shows that cumulatively St. Clair County has the highest infection rate, adjusted for population, in the entire metro area.

“I’m concerned about our businesses, and this shutdown is going to hurt them,” said Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton. “I’m also concerned about the health of our residents, and the safety of our residents. … Those two things, in many ways, go hand in hand.”

Patton said he would encourage people who still have a source of income to patronize local restaurants.

“I’m not going to sit back and criticize the governor,” Patton said. “I am going to feel sorry for our small businesses … but we’ve helped them out before and I’m confident that the public will understand that they need our help again.”

Illinois reported 1,492 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday, reaching a total of 236,515, and 39 more deaths.

Missouri reported 1,058 new cases of COVID-19, reaching a total of 85,755 and eight more deaths over the last 24 hours.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 33 new hospital admissions Tuesday, and a seven-day moving average of 43.

​The city of St. Louis reported 42 new cases, reaching a total of 6,216.

St. Louis County reported 233 new cases, reaching a total of 19,665.

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